Anemia is the condition in which there are not enough red blood cells in the blood. Red blood cells are the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Anemia can result from destruction of red blood cells, a process called hemolysis. Because red blood cells have high concentration of potassium, hemolysis can lead to high potassium levels in the bloodstream.
Causes of Hemolytic Anemia
Hemolytic anemia occurs when the bone marrow, the tissue inside bones that produces red blood cells, is unable to keep up with the destruction of these cells in the bloodstream. According to PubMed Health, there are several causes for the hemolysis of red blood cells. In general, premature hemolysis occurs due to defects in the red cell membrane or because of factors outside of the cells. Some conditions with red blood cell membrane defects include sickle cell disease. Outside factors, known as extrinsic factors, that can cause hemolysis include certain infections, medications, and autoimmune conditions, in which the body attacks the red blood cells.
Symptoms of Hemolysis
The symptoms of hemolytic anemia may be subtle at first, and become more obvious as the levels of red blood cells decrease. Symptoms include paleness, fever, weakness, dizziness and rapid heart rate. Anemia can decrease your energy levels, make you become confused and lightheaded, and cause loss of consciousness. Jaundice, a yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes, can also occur in any condition that causes hemolysis.
Symptoms of High Potassium
Potassium is an important electrolyte for many of the body’s functions. Because most potassium is inside cells, even small changes in the levels of potassium in the bloodstream can have serious health consequences. When there is an increase in the hemolysis of red blood cells, potassium levels in the bloodstream increase. According to MayoClinic.com, the initial symptoms can be non-specific, and include nausea, vomiting, weakness and fatigue. The most serious consequence of elevated potassium levels are cardiac arrhythmias, or potentially fatal abnormal heart rhythms.
The initial treatment of anemia is making sure the vital signs, including blood pressure and heart rate, are stable. Blood transfusions may be necessary if the anemia is causing rapid heart rate, loss of consciousness, or signs of heart or other organ failure. The treatment of high potassium includes medicines to increase the excretion of this electrolyte in the urine and from the gut, and other drugs to stabilize the heart and prevent arrhythmias.