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Other names: Low blood phosphate, phosphate deficiency, hypophosphataemia
File:Phosphate Group.PNG
Phosphate group chemical structure
SymptomsWeakness, trouble breathing, loss of appetite[1]
ComplicationsSeizures, coma, rhabdomyolysis, softening of the bones[1]
CausesAlcoholism, refeeding in those with malnutrition, hyperventilation, diabetic ketoacidosis, burns, certain medications[1]
Diagnostic methodBlood phosphate < 0.81 mmol/L (2.5 mg/dL)[1]
TreatmentBased on the underlying cause, phosphate[1][2]
Frequency2% (people in hospital)[1]

Hypophosphatemia is an electrolyte disorder in which there is a low level of phosphate in the blood.[1] Symptoms may include weakness, trouble breathing, and loss of appetite.[1] Complications may include seizures, coma, rhabdomyolysis, or softening of the bones.[1]

Causes include alcoholism, refeeding in those with malnutrition, diabetic ketoacidosis, burns, hyperventilation, and certain medications.[1] It may also occur in the setting of hyperparathyroidism, hypothyroidism, and Cushing syndrome.[1] It is diagnosed based on a blood phosphate concentration of less than 0.81 mmol/L (2.5 mg/dL).[1] When levels are below 0.32 mmol/L (1.0 mg/dL) it is deemed to be severe.[2]

Treatment depends on the underlying cause.[1] Phosphate may be given by mouth or by injection into a vein.[1] Hypophosphatemia occurs in about 2% of people within hospital and 70% of people in the intensive care unit (ICU).[1][3]

Signs and symptoms

  • Muscle dysfunction and weakness – This occurs in major muscles, but also may manifest as: diplopia, low cardiac output, dysphagia, and respiratory depression due to respiratory muscle weakness.
  • Mental status changes – This may range from irritability to gross confusion, delirium, and coma.
  • White blood cell dysfunction, causing worsening of infections.
  • Instability of cell membranes due to low adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels – This may cause rhabdomyolysis with increased serum levels of creatine phosphokinase, and also hemolytic anemia.
  • Increased affinity for oxygen in the blood caused by decreased production of 2,3-bisphosphoglyceric acid.


  • Refeeding syndrome – This causes a demand for phosphate in cells due to the action of hexokinase, an enzyme that attaches phosphate to glucose to begin metabolism of glucose. Also, production of ATP when cells are fed and recharge their energy supplies requires phosphate.
  • Respiratory alkalosis – Any alkalemic condition moves phosphate out of the blood into cells. This includes most common respiratory alkalemia (a higher than normal blood pH from low carbon dioxide levels in the blood), which in turn is caused by any hyperventilation (such as may result from sepsis, fever, pain, anxiety, drug withdrawal, and many other causes). This phenomenon is seen because in respiratory alkalosis carbon dioxide (CO2) decreases in the extracellular space, causing intracellular CO2 to freely diffuse out of the cell. This drop in intracellular CO2 causes a rise in cellular pH which has a stimulating effect on glycolysis. Since the process of glycolysis requires phosphate (the end product is adenosine triphosphate), the result is a massive uptake of phosphate into metabolically active tissue (such as muscle) from the serum. However, that this effect is not seen in metabolic alkalosis, for in such cases the cause of the alkalosis is increased bicarbonate rather than decreased CO2. Bicarbonate, unlike CO2, has poor diffusion across the cellular membrane and therefore there is little change in intracellular pH.[4]
  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Alcohol abuse – Alcohol impairs phosphate absorption. Alcoholics are usually also malnourished with regard to minerals. In addition, alcohol treatment is associated with refeeding, and the stress of alcohol withdrawal may create respiratory alkalosis, which exacerbates hypophosphatemia (see above).
  • Malabsorption – This includes gastrointestinal damage, and also failure to absorb phosphate due to lack of vitamin D, or chronic use of phosphate binders such as sucralfate, aluminum-containing antacids, and (more rarely) calcium-containing antacids.
  • Intravenous iron (usually for anemia) may cause hypophosphatemia. The loss of phosphate is predominantly the result of renal wasting.

Primary hypophosphatemia is the most common cause of non-nutritional rickets. Laboratory findings include low-normal serum calcium, moderately low serum phosphate, elevated serum alkaline phosphatase, and low serum 1,25 dihydroxy-vitamin D levels, hyperphosphaturia, and no evidence of hyperparathyroidism.[5]

Hypophosphatemia decreases 2,3-bisphosphoglycerate (2,3-BPG) causing a left shift in the oxyhemoglobin curve.[citation needed]

Other rarer causes include:


Hypophosphatemia is caused by the following three mechanisms:


Hypophosphatemia is diagnosed by measuring the concentration of phosphate in the blood. Concentrations of phosphate less than 0.81 mmol/L (2.5 mg/dL) are considered diagnostic of hypophosphatemia, though additional tests may be needed to identify the underlying cause of the disorder.[6]


Standard intravenous preparations of potassium phosphate are available and are routinely used in malnourished people and alcoholics. Supplementation by mouth is also useful where no intravenous treatment are available. Historically one of the first demonstrations of this was in people in concentration camp who died soon after being re-fed: it was observed that those given milk (high in phosphate) had a higher survival rate than those who did not get milk.[citation needed]

Monitoring parameters during correction with IV phosphate[7]

  • Phosphorus levels should be monitored after 2 to 4 hours after each dose, also monitor serum potassium, calcium and magnesium. Cardiac monitoring is also advised.[citation needed]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 "Hypophosphatemia". Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Archived from the original on 15 April 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Adams, James G. (2012). Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials (Expert Consult - Online and Print). Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 1416. ISBN 1455733946. Archived from the original on 2018-10-28. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  3. Yunen, Jose R. (2012). The 5-Minute ICU Consult. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 152. ISBN 9781451180534. Archived from the original on 2018-10-28. Retrieved 2018-10-28.
  4. O'Brien, Thomas M; Coberly, LeAnn (2003). "Severe Hypophosphatemia in Respiratory Alkalosis" (PDF). Advanced Studies in Medicine. 3 (6): 347. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2011-06-17.
  5. Toy, Girardet, Hormann, Lahoti, McNeese, Sanders, and Yetman. Case Files: Pediatrics, Second Edition. 2007. McGraw Hill.
  6. "Hypophosphatemia - Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders - Merck Manuals Professional Edition". Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. Archived from the original on 1 January 2018. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  7. Shajahan, A., Ajith Kumar, J., Gireesh Kumar, K. P., Sreekrishnan, T. P. and Jismy, K. (2015), Managing hypophosphatemia in critically ill patients: a report on an under-diagnosed electrolyte anomaly. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics. doi: 10.1111/jcpt.12264

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External resources