Hyperkalemia after packed red blood cell transfusion in trauma patients

J Trauma. 2008 Feb;64(2 Suppl):S86-91; discussion S91. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e318160c0b8.


Background: Published analyses of clinical outcomes for patients requiring large-volume blood transfusion conflict with respect to the impact upon plasma potassium levels. We analyzed a cohort of trauma patients to ascertain the impact of component product transfusion upon plasma potassium values.

Methods: We performed an observational analysis of previously, prospectively collected clinical data on 131 noncrush trauma patients undergoing resuscitation during the initial 12 hours after admission to a combat support hospital. Comparisons were made between those who received packed red blood cell (PRBC) transfusion and those who did not. Primary outcome was hyperkalemia (plasma potassium level >5.5 mmol/L).

Results: Ninety-six of one hundred thirty-one patients (73.3%) received PRBCs (mean number of PRBC units 11.2, range, 0-55.0). For transfusion versus nontransfusion patients, baseline plasma potassium value (3.7 +/- 0.57 mmol/L vs. 3.6 +/- 0.36 mmol/L, p = 0.22) rose significantly after transfusion (5.3 +/- 1.2 mmol/L, vs. 4.0 +/- 0.78 mmol/L, p < 0.001). During the study period, 38.5% of transfusion patients developed hyperkalemia, versus 2.9% of those who did not (p = 0.003). In multivariate logistic regression analysis, transfusion of greater than 7 units of PRBCs was independently associated with the development of hyperkalemia (RR 4.72, 95% CI 1.01-21.97, p = 0.048). Transfusion of other cell-based products, baseline base deficits, and plasma bicarbonate levels were not. Spearman's rank correlation coefficient for the relationship of number of transfused PRBC units to the highest recorded potassium value was 0.554 (p < 0.001). The predictive accuracy of the logistic regression model for hyperkalemia was 0.824 (95% CI 0.747-0.901, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Hyperkalemia is common after PRBC transfusion, and often severe. PRBC transfusion is independently associated with the development of hyperkalemia. The findings suggest the need for interventional studies examining the impact of alternative resuscitative approaches after severe trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Military
  • Humans
  • Hyperkalemia / etiology*
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011*
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy*