Damage to the small blood vessels in the kidneys can cause clots that clog the organ's filtering system. This can lead to life-threatening kidney failure.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a condition that can occur when small blood vessels become damaged and inflamed. This damage can cause clots to form in the vessels all through the body. The clots can damage the kidneys and other organs. Hemolytic uremic syndrome can lead to kidney failure, which can be life-threatening.
Anyone can get hemolytic uremic syndrome. But it's most common in young children. Most often, infection with certain strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria is the cause.
Other infections, certain medicines or conditions such as pregnancy, cancer or autoimmune diseases can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome. It also can be the result of certain gene changes.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome is serious. But treating it in time leads to a full recovery for most people, especially young children.
The symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome vary, depending on the cause. The first symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by E. coli bacteria might include:
All forms of hemolytic uremic syndrome damage blood vessels. This damage causes red blood cells to break down, called anemia. The condition also causes blood clots to form in the blood vessels and, in turn, damage the kidneys.
Symptoms of these changes include:
See a member of your health care team right away if you or your child has bloody diarrhea or several days of diarrhea followed by:
Seek emergency care if you or your child doesn't urinate for 12 hours or more.
The most common cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome is infection with certain strains of E. coli bacteria. This is especially true for children under age 5. Some of the E. coli strains make a toxin called Shiga toxin. These strains are called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).
Most of the hundreds of types of E. coli are typical and harmless. But some strains of E. coli can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome.
Other causes of hemolytic uremic syndrome can include:
An uncommon type of hemolytic uremic syndrome, called atypical, can be passed down through families. People who inherit the gene that causes this form of hemolytic uremic syndrome don't always get the condition. But an infection, the use of certain medicines or ongoing health conditions can start hemolytic uremic syndrome in people with the gene.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by E.coli can occur if you:
The risk of getting hemolytic uremic syndrome is highest for:
Hemolytic uremic syndrome can cause life-threatening complications, including:
Meat or produce that has E. coli won't always look, feel or smell bad. To protect against E. coli infection and other illnesses from foods:
A physical exam and lab tests can confirm a diagnosis of hemolytic uremic syndrome. Lab tests might include:
If the cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome isn't clear, other tests might help find the cause.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome needs treatment in the hospital. Treatment involves replacing lost fluids and minerals to make up for the kidneys not removing fluids and waste as well as usual. It also might involve getting nutrition through a vein.
In the hospital, you might receive red blood cells or platelets through a vein, a process called a transfusion.
Lasting kidney damage from hemolytic uremic syndrome might be treated with a medicine to lower blood pressure. This medicine might prevent or slow more kidney damage.
For complications or the atypical form of hemolytic uremic syndrome, treatment might include a medicine called eculizumab (Soliris) to help prevent more damage to the blood vessels.
Anyone taking eculizumab needs to have a vaccination to prevent meningitis, a possible serious side effect of the medicine.
Depending on the symptoms, the cause of hemolytic uremic syndrome and whether there are complications, treatment might include:
If you or your child has diarrhea for several days, call someone on your care team right away. Be ready to answer these questions:
If you or your child has an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea, try to replace lost fluids with an oral rehydrating solution, such as Ceralyte, Pedialyte or Oralyte.