Interaction of the sympathetic nervous system and electrolytes in congestive heart failure.


Francis GS




Am J Cardiol


Congestive heart failure is characterized by both disturbances in electrolyte homeostasis and neuro-hormonal regulation. Total body potassium is reduced, and this reduction bears a modest relation to activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the renin- angiotensin-aldosterone system. Patients with decompensated heart failure show increases in both plasma epinephrine and plasma norepinephrine, whereas patients with chronic stable heart failure usually have an increase only in plasma norepinephrine. High levels of circulating epinephrine may contribute to the development of hypokalemia by activating skeletal muscle and liver membrane beta 2- adrenergic receptors, which in turn stimulate intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate to activate the membrane-bound Na+K(+)- adenosine triphosphatase pump. The net result is that potassium flux across the cell membrane from the extracellular to the intracellular space increases, setting the stage for hypokalemia and possibly serious ventricular arrhythmias. Other mechanisms that may contribute to the development of hypokalemia in heart failure include the kaliuresis brought on by excessive levels of aldosterone. Moreover, it is likely that the activity of facilitated by concomitant activation of the renin-angiotensin system. Increased sympathetic nerve activity may then release additional renin from the kidney (by way of a beta 2-adrenergic mechanism). Therefore, both the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal medulla may interact to cause hypokalemia in patients with heart failure. Because hypokalemia is known to predispose patients to ventricular arrhythmias, it may be prudent to aggressively maintain serum potassium levels in patients with heart failure in the range of 4 to 5 mEq/liter.