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Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a serious problem caused by damage to the lining of blood vessels and red blood cells. The damaged red blood cells can block the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys. This makes it harder for the kidneys to remove wastes and extra fluid from the blood. The kidneys may stop working (kidney failure). Blood vessels in your child's intestines or brain may also be affected, causing bleeding in those areas.

What is the cause?

HUS can be caused by

  • Infections from food or water that is contaminated with certain types of bacteria (E. coli bacteria are the most common cause)
  • Medicines used to treat cancer, muscle cramps, or to suppress the body’s immune system
  • Lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissue
  • Infections such as HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, or infection from the pneumococcal bacteria
  • Genes your child inherited. Genes are inside each cell of your body and are passed from parents to children. They contain the information that tells your body how to develop and work.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea, which may be bloody
  • Fever

Symptoms that may come on later may include:

  • Extreme tiredness or irritability
  • Unexplained bruises or unusual bleeding
  • Little or no urine or blood in the urine
  • Seizures
  • Very pale or yellow skin or having a fine red rash

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Kidney biopsy, which is the removal of a small sample of tissue from the kidney for testing
  • Tests of a sample of bowel movement

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:

  • Medicines to control symptoms
  • Blood or plasma transfusions (plasma is the pale yellow liquid part of blood)
  • Kidney dialysis, which is the use of a machine to clean the blood like the kidneys normally do

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

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take your child to recover
  • If there are activities your child should avoid
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent HUS?

HUS is most often caused by food contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Here are some things you can do to help prevent infection with bacteria:

  • Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, and leftovers. Pork should be heated to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71°C). For whole chicken and turkey, a temperature of 180°F (82°C) is recommended for thigh meat and 170°F (77°C) for breast meat.
  • Keep juices from raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods.
  • Refrigerate any food you will not be eating right away.
  • Wash your hands well before you prepare food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them.
  • Teach children to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom or touch animals.
  • Wash your hands after changing diapers.
  • Avoid drinking or eating unpasteurized dairy products or juices.
Written by Robert Brayden, MD, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-03-01
Last reviewed: 2014-04-01
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 healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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