Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a condition in which red blood cells are abnormally destroyed, leading to a decreased red blood cell count (anemia) and destruction of the platelets (thrombocytopenia). Platelets are found circulating in the blood and are involved in clot formation to stop bleeding. HUS is most often caused by an infection of a certain strain of E. coli. An individual is likely to ingest E. coli, a bacterium, when eating undercooked, spoiled, or contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. Children ages 2 to 14 are most commonly affected. In adults, other causes of HUS are medications, other infections, and genetic inheritance (atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome).
HUS is often found after symptoms of bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain. Symptoms of HUS include paleness, fatigue, passing only small amounts of urine, bloody urine, stomach pain, swelling, vomiting, easy bruising, small amounts of bleeding from the mouth and nose, and fever. The debris from destroyed red blood cells in HUS can clog or damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidney, which is the organ that filters blood and produces urine. Kidney failure may occur and is a feared complication of this condition.
Diagnosis of HUS is usually made using a blood test to look at potential red blood cell damage, a urine test, and a stool test for bacteria. HUS is treated in a hospital and may involve fluid replacement, an injection of more red blood cells and/or platelets, injection of plasma (the liquid part of blood), and possibly kidney dialysis if the kidney can no longer filter blood. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with HUS, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options. Support groups are available for resources and more information.