18. A Case of Severe Weakness in the ICU

We are thrilled here @PulmPEEPS to have our first episode with one of our new Associate Editors Luke Hedrick, and our first nephrology consultant Jeff William. Luke will walk us through an interesting case presentation, and we will discuss an approach to severe weakness in our patient in the ICU.

Meet Our Guests

Jeff William is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he is also the Associate Director of the Nephrology Fellowship Program. He completed a Medical Education Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School, and is very involved in residency, fellowship and medical student education.

Patient Presentation

We have a man in his 40s with a past medical history of asthma, hypertension, and acid reflux who was brought in by EMS with back pain and profound proximal lower extremity weakness. He reports mild weakness in his legs which started 2 days ago, but this morning his weakness acutely worsened to the point that he can’t lift his legs out of the bed. He also has some cramping pain in his thighs. He additionally has had mild shortness of breath and yesterday went to an urgent care where he was given steroids and swabbed for COVID (which was negative).

Key Learning Points

**Spoilers Ahead** If you want to think through the case on your own we advise listening to the episode first before looking at the infographics below

Although our patient’s etiology of severe hypokalemia was thought to be secondary to thiazide diuretic use, it is important to be familiar with hypokalemic periodic paralysis.


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  3. Venance SL, Cannon SC, Fialho D, Fontaine B, Hanna MG, Ptacek LJ, Tristani-Firouzi M, Tawil R, Griggs RC; CINCH investigators. The primary periodic paralyses: diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment. Brain. 2006 Jan;129(Pt 1):8-17. doi: 10.1093/brain/awh639.
  4. Lin SH, Lin YF, Halperin ML. Hypokalaemia and paralysis. QJM. 2001 Mar;94(3):133-9. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/94.3.133. 
  5. Lin SH, Lin YF, Chen DT, Chu P, Hsu CW, Halperin ML. Laboratory tests to determine the cause of hypokalemia and paralysis. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Jul 26;164(14):1561-6. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.14.1561.