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Pseudohyperkalaemia associated with leukaemic cell lysis during pneumatic tube transport of blood samples

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Pseudohyperkalaemia is relatively uncommon in children, but needs to be considered in cases where extreme hyperkalaemia is associated with normal renal function.


A previously well 12 year-old boy presented with new onset T cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia associated with a high peripheral blood white cell count. Plasma biochemistry tests on a blood sample sent to the laboratory using a pneumatic tube system showed a high plasma potassium level of 16.6 mmol/l, with otherwise normal electrolytes and renal function. A 12-lead electrocardiogram was normal, with no changes suggestive of hyperkalaemia. Pseudohyperkalaemia was suspected, and further samples transported to the laboratory by foot showed normal plasma potassium levels. It was subsequently demonstrated that the pseudohyperkalemia was due to the lysis of leukaemic white cells during the transport of blood samples from the ward to the laboratory within the pneumatic tube system.


Paediatricians caring for children with haematological malignancies need to be aware of this cause of pseudohyperkalaemia so that unnecessary treatment, including the commencement of acute dialysis, is avoided. We recommend that blood samples collected from children with high white cell count malignancies are transported to the laboratory by foot rather than in pneumatic tube systems.

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Correspondence to Nicholas J. A. Webb.

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Dickinson, H., Webb, N.J.A., Chaloner, C. et al. Pseudohyperkalaemia associated with leukaemic cell lysis during pneumatic tube transport of blood samples. Pediatr Nephrol 27, 1029–1031 (2012).

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