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Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome


What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a disease of blood clotting in the smallest blood vessels in the body. As red blood cells pass through the blocked blood vessels, the blood cells are damaged (hemolyzed).

The damaged red blood cells clog the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. This makes it harder for the kidney to remove wastes and extra fluid from the blood. This may cause the kidneys to completely stop working (kidney failure).

What is the cause?

The most common cause of HUS is eating food that is contaminated with a certain kind of E. coli bacteria. Other possible causes are:

  • bone marrow transplants
  • medicines used to treat cancer
  • lupus
  • HIV

What are the symptoms?

  • unexplained bruises
  • unusual bleeding
  • swollen arms or legs
  • extreme tiredness
  • decreased urine output or blood in the urine
  • stomach pain
  • vomiting and diarrhea

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your child’s medical history and do a physical exam, however, blood tests are needed to diagnose HUS. Blood tests will show how well your child's kidneys are working and will check your child's blood count. Your healthcare provider may also check your child's urine for blood or protein, and your child's stool for blood. In some cases a kidney biopsy may be done.

How is it treated?

Your child will be treated in the hospital. The treatment will depend on your child’s condition. Your child may need:

  • IV fluids
  • medicines to control blood pressure and swelling
  • blood transfusions
  • kidney dialysis
  • plasma exchange

In rare cases, your child may need a kidney transplant.

How can I prevent HUS?

HUS is most commonly caused by infection with certain E. Coli bacteria. Infection with these bacteria can be prevented by thoroughly cooking meat. You cannot prevent HUS caused by medicines, bone marrow transplants, or other diseases.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call IMMEDIATELY if:

  • Your child starts vomiting or has diarrhea.
  • Your child's abdominal pain is getting more severe, or there is blood in your child's bowel movements.
  • Your child has not urinated in over 12 hours.
  • Your child’s arms or legs begin to swell.
  • Your child's urine has blood in it.
  • Your child is acting very sick.

Call during office hours if:

  • You have other questions or concerns.

Developed by Robert Brayden, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-09-16
Last reviewed: 2010-09-16

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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