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Hypophosphatemia in Emergency Medicine Treatment & Management

  • Author: Luda Khait, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Erik D Schraga, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 22, 2014

Emergency Department Care

Treatment of hypophosphatemia is twofold. 1) correct any precipitating causes of hypophosphatemia, and 2) replace total body phosphates.

  • Depending on the clinical situation, replacement options include dietary phosphate, oral phosphate preparations, and IV phosphate.
  • Replacement of phosphate is recommended through the intravenous route in patients with severe hypophosphatemia and for patients that concomitantly have cardiac dysfunction, respiratory failure, muscle weakness, or impaired tissue oxygenation.[21]
  • Hypophosphatemia and hypokalemia can coexist in certain disorders like diabetic ketoacidosis and alcoholism, so replacement with the potassium salt is most appropriate.
  • The most important consideration in choosing replacement therapy is whether the patient has signs or symptoms of phosphate depletion.
  • Mild to moderately severe, asymptomatic hypophosphatemia
    • Mild to moderately severe, asymptomatic hypophosphatemia may require oral phosphate replacement; however, correcting factors that led to the hypophosphatemia usually is sufficient.
    • In most asymptomatic patients, the serum phosphate level spontaneously normalizes over several days when factors inducing hypophosphatemia are corrected.
    • In patients with minimal symptoms or moderate hypophosphatemia (serum phosphate 1-2 mg/dL), providing oral phosphate replacement may be desirable.
      • It is recommended that oral phosphate replacement be used in patients who are symptomatic and have phosphate levels between 1.0-1.9 mg/dL.
      • For patients who are symptomatic and have a serum phosphate level less than 1.0 mg/dL, IV replacement is recommended, followed by oral replacement once serum phosphate levels reach greater than 1.5 mg/dL.
    • The average adult consumes 1 gram of phosphorus daily. A quart of cow's milk provides this amount of phosphorus (1 mg phosphorus/mL). Dairy products have an additional advantage of supplying absorbable calcium, which can help avoid the hypocalcemia that may result with more aggressive replacement regimens.
    • Phosphorus preparations with sodium and potassium are available, but they have disadvantages, including causing osmotic diarrhea, volume overload, or hyperkalemia.
    • Usual starting doses are 2-3 grams of elemental phosphorus in divided doses.
  • Severe/symptomatic hypophosphatemia
    • Patients with symptoms of hypophosphatemia or with serum phosphate levels less than 1 mg/dL require IV phosphate replacement.
    • IV replacement can be dangerous for the patient, causing an electrolyte disturbances including hypocalcemia, renal failure from calcium phosphate precipitating in the kidneys, and fatal arrhythmias.
    • Serum phosphate concentration should be monitored every 6 hours if replacement is given through the IV route.
    • Once serum phosphate levels reach 1.5 md/dL, therapy should be switched to oral replacement.
    • The intracellular nature of phosphate makes interpreting a low serum phosphate level difficult and predicting the amount required to replenish cellular stores nearly impossible.
    • Accordingly, recommendations for IV phosphate in the literature are varied and based on therapeutic experiences with limited numbers of patients.
    • Avoid hyperphosphatemia when replacing phosphorus intravenously, as this can lead to hypocalcemia (leading to tetany) and calcium-phosphate deposition in tissues (eye, heart, kidney, lung).


Based on any underlying or suspected etiologies

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Luda Khait, MD, MS Resident Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Detroit Medical Center, Detroit Receiving Hospital

Luda Khait, MD, MS is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Michigan State Medical Society, Emergency Medicine Residents' Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Adam J Rosh, MD Assistant Professor, Program Director, Emergency Medicine Residency, Department of Emergency Medicine, Detroit Receiving Hospital, Wayne State University School of Medicine

Adam J Rosh, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Howard A Bessen, MD Professor of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine; Program Director, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

Howard A Bessen, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Erik D Schraga, MD Staff Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Mills-Peninsula Emergency Medical Associates

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Robin R Hemphill, MD, MPH Associate Professor, Director, Quality and Safety, Department of Emergency Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine

Robin R Hemphill, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Devon J Moore, MD Resident Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Wayne State University Detroit Medical Center, Detroit Receiving Hospital

Devon J Moore, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Student Association/Foundation, Emergency Medicine Residents Association, and Wayne State School of Medicine Black Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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