Oral drug normalizes potassium in 98 percent of kidney patients with side effect

SAN ANTONIO (March 27, 2015) — Patients with chronic kidney disease may be treated with a class of medications called Renin Angiotensin Aldosterone System inhibitors (RAASI’s). Although these drugs protect the heart and kidney, a significant percentage of patients develop a dangerous side effect — high potassium levels in the blood (hyperkalemia).

Elevated potassium puts patients at risk of death from cardiac arrhythmias. Lacking a drug to treat the problem, doctors either stop these beneficial drugs or may use kidney dialysis to quickly lower the potassium.

At the National Kidney Foundation Spring Clinical Meetings this week in Dallas, UT Medicine San Antonio renal specialist Wajeh Y. Qunibi, M.D., presented results of two national studies of ZS-9, a new oral drug that has been tested in more than 1,000 patients with high blood potassium. Dr. Qunibi is professor of medicine in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The studies evaluated the effectiveness and safety of ZS-9. “Dialysis is logistically difficult for patients, requires a catheter and is expensive,” Dr. Qunibi said. “In our studies, patients took a dose by mouth three times daily with meals, and potassium normalized in 98 percent of them within 48 hours. This is a major change in the way to treat hyperkalemia.”

He said between 5 percent and 30 percent of patients, depending on the type and stage of chronic kidney disease and whether they are treated with one or more RAASI’s, may develop this high potassium condition.

It is estimated that more than 20 million people in the U.S. have chronic kidney disease in varying levels of severity. Risk increases with age, and the disease is most common in adults over 70, particularly those with diabetes.

Results of the ZS-9 studies were reported in recent months in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association.


UT Medicine San Antonio is the clinical practice of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio. With more than 700 doctors – all School of Medicine faculty – UT Medicine is the largest medical practice in Central and South Texas. Expertise is in more than 100 medical specialties and subspecialties. Primary care doctors and specialists see patients in private practice at UT Medicine’s flagship clinical home, the Medical Arts & Research Center (MARC), located at 8300 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio 78229. Most major health plans are accepted, and UT Medicine physicians also practice at several local and regional hospitals. Call (210) 450-9000 to schedule an appointment, or visit www.UTMedicine.org for a list of clinics and phone numbers.

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