A prospective evaluation of elevated serum theophylline concentrations to determine if high concentrations are predictable

Paul A. Greenberger*, James A. Cranberg, Michael A. Ganz, Gary L. Hubler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


purpose: To evaluate prospectively whether serum theophylline concentrations of 25 mg/L and greater were predictable (and presumably preventable) by use of basic pharmacokinetic calculations. design: Prospective study. patients: Fifty-five patients with a serum theophylline concentration of at least 25.0 mg/L were evaluated initially and if subsequent elevated theophylline concentrations occurred. interventions: The predicted steady-state serum theophylline concentration was calculated from the dosage rate divided by the predicted clearance to determine how many elevated concentrations (greater than 20 mg/L) were predictable. Predicted clearances were 0.04 L/kg/hour for normal subjects less than 70 years of age and 0.02 L/kg/hour for patients with congestive heart failure, chronic obstrucive pulmonary disease, or liver disease. Estimated clearances were determined and compared with predicted clearances. If patients did not have steady-state concentrations, additional calculations were made. main results: From 6,368 consecutive theophylline determinations, 69 (1.08%) samples from 55 patients were 25 mg/L or higher. Predictably high concentrations occurred in 23 of 33 (69.7%) fully evaluable cases. These concentrations occurred because of a failure to consider decreased elimination clearance from congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or hepatic disease. Five fatalities occurred, and in two cases, theophylline appeared to contribute to the patient's death. Three other patients experienced syncope. The predicted elimination clearance of theophylline of 0.02 L/kg/hour was too high in eight patients over 70 years old with cardiac or pulmonary disease. Nursing and pharmacy oversights were identified as three patients were given two theophylline products simultaneously. conclusions: Most elevated theophylline concentrations are predictable (and preventable) by basic pharmacokinetic calculations. Patients experiencing elevated theophylline concentrations often had comorbid conditions and were greater than 60 years of age. The dosage rate of theophylline (mg/hour) can be estimated from predicted clearance (L/kg/hour) times desired steady-state serum concentration (mg/L).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-73
Number of pages7
JournalThe American journal of medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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