Life-Threatening Hyperkalemia from Cream of Tartar Ingestion

Daniel E. Rusyniak, Pamela J. Durant, James B. Mowry, Jo A. Johnson, Jayne A. Sanftleben, Joanne M. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: Cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) has a long history as a cooking aid and medicinal purgative. Despite containing large amounts of potassium, there are no well-documented cases of it causing toxicity. We report two cases in which intentional ingestions of cream of tartar resulted in life-threatening hyperkalemia. In addition, we briefly review the use of cream of tartar as a historical purgative. Case Reports: In both cases, individuals ingested a large quantity of cream of tartar in an effort to "clean themselves out". They manifested similar initial symptoms (vomiting), abnormal serum potassium (>8. 0 mmol/L), and EKG's with peaked T waves. Both patients were treated for hyperkalemia and recovered without complication. A search for articles on an academic internet database failed to identify any cases specifically dealing with ill effects of potassium bitartrate and numerous websites continue to purport its beneficial health effects. Conclusion: Ingestion of cream of tartar can potentially result in life-threatening hyperkalemia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-81
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of Medical Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Cream of tartar
  • Hyperkalemia
  • Potassium bitartrate
  • Purgative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Toxicology

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