What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a condition caused by the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. The damaged red blood cells clog the filtering system in the kidneys, which can lead to life-threatening kidney failure.
How common is hemolytic uremic syndrome?
It is most common in children under the age of 5, although older children and adults can also suffer from the disorder. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome?
The common symptoms of hemolytic uremic syndrome are:
- Bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain
- Pale skin
- Unexplained bruises or bleeding
- Decreased urination
- Abdominal swelling
- Blood in the urine
- Swollen face
- Swollen limbs
- Seizures (uncommon)
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes hemolytic uremic syndrome?
The most common cause of HUS — particularly in children under the age of 5 — is infection with E. coli bacteria that produce certain toxins (shiga toxin-producing E. coli or STEC). One such strain of E. coli is known as E. coli O157:H7. Other strains of E. coli have also been linked to HUS.
- coli refers to a group of bacteria normally found in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. Most of the hundreds of types of E. coli are normal and harmless. But some strains of E. coli — including those that cause HUS — are responsible for serious foodborne infections.
- coli can be found in:
- Contaminated meat or produce
- Swimming pools or lakes contaminated with feces
Sometimes, E. coli infection is spread through close contact with an infected person, such as within a family or at a day care center.
Most people who are infected with E. coli, even the more dangerous strains, don’t develop HUS.
Other causes of HUS can include:
- The use of certain medications, such as quinine sulfate (Qualaquin), some chemotherapy medications, medications containing the immunosuppressant cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune, Gengraf) and anti-platelet medications
- Certain infections, such as HIV/AIDS or an infection with the pneumococcal bacteria
- Rarely, pregnancy
Susceptibility to an uncommon type of HUS — known as atypical HUS, primary HUS or complement-mediated HUS — can be passed down genetically to children. People who have inherited the mutated gene that causes atypical HUS won’t necessarily develop the condition. The mutated gene might be activated after an upper respiratory or abdominal infection.
What increases my risk for hemolytic uremic syndrome?
There are many risk factors for hemolytic uremic syndrome, such as:
- Children under 5 years of age
- People over 75
- People with certain genetic changes that make them more susceptible
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is hemolytic uremic syndrome diagnosed?
Some very basic tests can be ordered to determine whether blood cells have been damaged or kidney function compromised:
A complete blood count (CBC) measures the quantity and quality of RBCs and platelets in a blood sample.
Other Blood Tests
In order to test for loss of kidney function, your doctor may order a BUN test (which looks for elevated urea by-products) and creatinine test (looking for elevated muscle by-products). Abnormal results could indicate kidney problems.
Your doctor will want to test for blood or protein in your urine.
Bacteria or blood in your stool could help your doctor isolate the underlying cause of your symptoms.
How is hemolytic uremic syndrome treated?
HUS requires treatment in the hospital. To ease signs and symptoms and to prevent further problems, treatment might include:
- Fluid replacement. Lost fluid and electrolytes must be carefully replaced because the kidneys aren’t removing fluids and waste as efficiently as normal.
- Red blood cell transfusions. Red blood cells, transfused through an intravenous (IV) needle, can help reverse signs and symptoms of HUS including chills, fatigue, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, yellow skin and dark urine.
- Platelet transfusions. IV transfusions of platelets can help your blood clot more normally if you’re bleeding or bruising easily.
- Plasma exchange. Plasma is the part of blood that supports the circulation of blood cells and platelets. Sometimes a machine is used to clear the blood of its own plasma and replace it with fresh or frozen donor plasma.
- Kidney dialysis. Sometimes dialysis is needed to filter waste and excess fluid from the blood. Dialysis is usually a temporary treatment until the kidneys begin functioning adequately again. But if you have significant kidney damage, you might need long-term dialysis.
Appropriate treatment leads to a full recovery for most people with HUS, especially young children.
If you have lasting kidney damage from HUS, your doctor might recommend a medication to lower your blood pressure, to prevent or delay further kidney damage. Your doctor might also recommend follow-up visits to evaluate your kidney function every year for five years.
This uncommon type of HUS is generally treated with plasma exchange. Your doctor might also recommend a medication — eculizumab (Soliris) — that can prevent the continued destruction of healthy cells. To prevent serious infection, you or your child might have a meningococcal vaccine before receiving this medication.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hemolytic uremic syndrome?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with hemolytic uremic syndrome:
- Avoid unpasteurized milk, juice and cider.
- Wash hands well before eating and after using the restroom and changing diapers.
- Clean utensils and food surfaces often.
- Cook meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Defrost meat in the microwave or refrigerator.
- Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. Don’t place cooked meat on plates previously contaminated by raw meat.
- Store meat below produce in the refrigerator to reduce the risk of liquids such as blood dripping on produce.
- Avoid unclean swimming areas. Don’t swim if you have diarrhea.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hemolytic-uremic-syndrome/home/ovc-20204140. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. http://www.healthline.com/health/hemolytic-uremic-syndrome#overview1. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Review Date: September 8, 2017 | Last Modified: September 8, 2017