Clinical implications of inaccurate potassium determination in hemolyzed pediatric blood specimens

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Background: Analysis of whole blood specimens is rapid and saves blood, but hemolysis may go undetected and compromise the accuracy of potassium measurement. We aimed to define the frequency and magnitude of error in whole blood potassium measurement. Methods: 34 months of whole blood and plasma potassium data were extracted from patients aged less than 2 years at the time of sample acquisition. Hemolysis was detected using the plasma “H index.” The magnitude of potassium bias was estimated from the difference between paired whole blood and plasma measurement separated by less than 2 h. Results: 56,000 of the 105,000 data points were from plasma and 20 % of these had significant hemolysis. Rates of hemolysis (nearing 50 %) were greatest in the neonatal nursery. Of 662 proximal whole blood and plasma paired results, 8 % had elevated whole blood potassium with a normal plasma value and 4 % had a normal whole blood potassium with reduced plasma potassium. The bias between whole blood and plasma potassium ranged from −1.0 to 4.0 mmol/L. Conclusions: The use of whole blood analysis brings with it significant risk for error in potassium measurement. Better tools to detect hemolysis in these types of specimens are indicated.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117862
JournalClinica Chimica Acta
StatePublished - Apr 15 2024


  • Hemolysis
  • Hyperkalemia
  • Neonate
  • Plasma
  • Whole blood


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