Monday, September 5, 2011

Hyperkalemia or not

A patient came to the hospital with a swollen arm. The ED suspected a DVT and ordered a doppler ultrasound which confirmed their suspicion. The admission labs included a chem-7 which revealed a potassium of 7. Her creatinine was 1 and she wasn't taking an ACEi, ARB, aldactone, ketoconazole, or potassium supplements. The ER was surprised and repeated the study and checked an EKG:

Narrow QRS and unimpressive T-waves

The EKG gave no hint of hyperkalemia, though EKG changes are not a sensitive marker for hyperkalemia. The ED gave insulin, glucose and Kayexalate for the lab finding of hyperkalemia. We were consulted to determine the cause of the hyperkalemia. The patient's past medical history was significant for primary thrombocytosis and during the hospital stay her platelet count rose to over a million.

dats a lot o'platelets
We presumed that his hyperkalemia was actually pseudohyperkalemia due to the high platelet count. Platelets release potassium when they clot and the risk of pseudohyperkalemia rises as the platelet count approaches a million.

You remember this classic NEJM article from 1962. 
We then sent the patients blood to the ABG lab in a heparinized syringe rather than a red top and the potassium normalized. Platelets release potassium when they are activated. By measuring the potassium in whole blood rather than serum, the contribution of platelet activation is prevented. The ABG results are the electrolytes to the far left in the screen-grab below (click to enlarge).

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