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Transfusion-associated hyperkalemia in pediatric population

"Hyperkalemia is a rare life-threatening complication of red blood cell (RBC) transfusion" Yamada et al (2021).


Background: Hyperkalemia is a rare life-threatening complication of red blood cell (RBC) transfusion. Stored RBCs leak intracellular potassium (K+) into the supernatant; irradiation potentiates the K+ leak. As the characteristics of patients and implicated RBCs have not been studied systematically, a multicenter study of transfusion-associated hyperkalemia (TAH) in the pediatric population was conducted through the AABB Pediatric Transfusion Medicine Subsection.

Study design: The medical records of patients <18 years old were retrospectively queried for hyperkalemia occurrence during or ≤12 h after the completion of RBC transfusion in a 1-year period. Collected data included patient demographics, diagnosis, medical history, timing of hyperkalemia and transfusion, mortality, and RBC unit characteristics.

Results/findings: A total of 3777 patients received 19,649 RBC units during the study period in four facilities. TAH was found in 35 patients (0.93%) in 37 occurrences. The patient median age and weight were 1.28 years and 9.80 kg, respectively. All patients had multiple serious comorbidities. There were 79 RBC units transfused in the TAH events; 62% were irradiated, and the median age of the units was 10 days. The median total RBC volume transfused ≤12 h before TAH was 24% of patient estimated total blood volume, and the median infusion rate (IR) was19.6 ml/kg/h. Mortality rate within 1 day after the TAH event was 20%.

Conclusions: The prevalence of TAH in children was low; however, the 1-day mortality rate was 20%. Patients with multiple comorbidities may be at higher risk for TAH. The IR was higher for patients who had TAH than the IR threshold for safe transfusion.


Yamada C, Edelson M, Lee A, Saifee NH, Bahar B, Delaney M. Transfusion-associated hyperkalemia in pediatric population: Prevalence, risk factors, survival, infusion rate, and RBC unit features. Transfusion. 2021 Feb 10. doi: 10.1111/trf.16300. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33565635.