Critically Elevated Potassium in a 55-Year-Old Female With Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Jing Cao, PhD; Amy B. Karger, MD, PhD


Lab Med. 2018;49(3):280-283. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Hyperkalemia in specimens from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) may be due to tumor lysis syndrome (TLS) or specimen processing. This report describes a 55-year-old Caucasian woman with CLL who presented to an outside hospital with hyperkalemia and was transferred to a second hospital. Initial evaluation on the core laboratory chemistry analyzer (the VITROS 5600) and the ABL90 FLEX blood gas analyzer showed markedly elevated levels of potassium (K+). TLS was subsequently diagnosed, and dialysis was initiated. However, follow-up K+ measurements in whole blood (WB) yielded low levels that were unexpected after a single dialysis treatment. We then discovered that the initially elevated K+ level was from centrifuged plasma specimens and concluded that it indicated pseudohyperkalemia, likely from centrifugation. This case demonstrates that medical teams need be alert to potentially false K+ results in patients with elevated white blood cell counts. WB specimens are preferable, and steps to minimize trauma to the specimen and immediate analysis using blood gas instruments are recommended.