Distal Renal Tubular Acidosis and Severe Hypokalemia

A Case Report and Review of the Literature

George Vasquez-Rios; David John Westrich Jr; Isaac Philip; John C. Edwards; Stephanie Shieh


J Med Case Reports. 2019;13(103) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: Distal renal tubular acidosis is a relatively infrequent condition with complex pathophysiology that can present with life-threatening electrolyte abnormalities.

Case presentation: We describe a case of a 57-year-old Caucasian woman with previous episodes of hypokalemia, severe muscle weakness, and fatigue. Upon further questioning, symptoms of dry eye and dry mouth became evident. Initial evaluation revealed hyperchloremic metabolic acidosis, severe hypokalemia, persistent alkaline urine, and a positive urinary anion gap, suggestive of distal renal tubular acidosis. Additional laboratory workup and renal biopsy led to the diagnosis of primary Sjögren's syndrome with associated acute tubulointerstitial nephritis. After potassium and bicarbonate supplementation, immunomodulatory therapy with hydroxychloroquine, azathioprine, and prednisone was started. Nonetheless, her renal function failed to improve and remained steady with an estimated glomerular filtration rate of 42 ml/min/1.73 m2. The literature on this topic was reviewed.

Conclusions: Cases of renal tubular acidosis should be carefully evaluated to prevent adverse complications, uncover a potentially treatable condition, and prevent the progression to chronic kidney disease. Repeated episodes of unexplained hypokalemia could be an important clue for diagnosis.