To evaluate the prevalence of hypokalemia in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, the initial serum potassium and arterial pH values were reviewed from 138 consecutive patients resuscitated from cardiac arrest. For comparison, the same variables were reviewed for 62 consecutive patients who had transmural acute myocardial infarction (AMI) without cardiac arrest. The mean serum potassium level was lower after resuscitation from cardiac arrest (3.6 ± 0.6 mEq/liter) than during AMI (3.9 ± 0.5 mEq/liter) (p < 0.005). The incidence of hypokalemia (potassium less than 3.5 mEq/liter) was greater in patients sustaining cardiac arrest (41%) than in patients who had AMI without cardiac arrest (11%) (p < 0.001). Hypokalemia was common after cardiac arrest regardless of the occurrence of AMI at the time of arrest. Hypokalemia after cardiac arrest was independent of arterial pH, epinephrine or bicarbonate therapy during resuscitation, or prior therapy with diuretic drugs, digoxin or propranolol. In 10 patients with marked hypokalemia, the serum potassium level returned to normal rapidly (16 hours) during the hospitalization even though only 29% of the predicted potassium requirement was infused before its normalization. Thus, hypokalemia is prevalent immediately after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, whereas it is uncommon in AMI in the absence of cardiac arrest. The cause and electrophysiologic consequences of this hypokalemia are unknown; in most cases, it is apparently caused by a shift of potassium from the intravascular compartment rather than a total body depletion of potassium.