Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS) is a disorder that occurs when an infection in the digestive system produces toxic substances that destroy red blood cells. It often affects the kidneys.
This disorder is most common in children. It often occurs after a gastrointestinal (enteric) infection, caused by a type of E. coli bacteria (Escherichia coli O157:H7). It has also been associated with other enteric infections, including Shigella and Salmonella, and some non-enteric infections.
HUS was once very rare, but it is increasing in children. It is the most common cause of acute kidney failure in children. Several large outbreaks in 1992 and 1993 were linked to undercooked hamburger meat contaminated with E. coli. Because of these outbreaks, supermarket hamburger meat now has new labeling, and there are new temperature guidelines for hamburgers cooked at fast-food chains and restaurants.
HUS is more complicated in adults. It is similar to another disease called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP).
Other risk factors for HUS are unknown. HUS may occur with a variety of other diseases and infections.
HUS often begins with vomiting and diarrhea (which may be bloody). Within a week, the person may become weak and iritable. People with HUS may urinate far less than normal. Urine output may almost stop. Because red blood cells are being destroyed (a process called hemolysis), the person quickly becomes anemic and pale.
Later developing symptoms:
Exams and Tests
A physical exam may show an enlarged liver or spleen. There may be abnormal changes to the nervous system. Lab tests will show signs of hemolytic anemia and acute renal failure.
- A complete blood count (CBC) might show:
- Coagulation studies such as PT and PTT may be normal or abnormal.
- Blood chemistry such as a chem-20 shows abnormalities, including:
- A urinalysis shows:
- Blood in the urine
- Protein in the urine
- A urine protein test can be used to show the amount of protein in the urine.
This is a serious illness in both children and adults, and it can cause death.
People with this condition receive transfusions of packed red cells and platelets as needed. Some people may need kidney dialysis. Doctors may prescribe medications such as corticosteroids.
Some people may have the liquid portion of their blood (plasma) treated with plasmapheresis or plasma exchange. The plasma is removed and replaced with fresh (donated) plasma or filtered to remove antibodies from the blood.
More than half of people who get treatment will recover, and the outcome is better in children.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of HUS. If you have reduced consciousness, blood in the stool, or a lack of urination, it is an emergency situation.
Call your health care provider if you have had an episode of HUS, and your urine output decreases or you develop other new symptoms.
You can prevent the known cause, E. coli, by cooking hamburger and ground meats well. It is not possible to prevent other, unrecognized causes at this time.
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