Children's Hospital Colorado

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

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What is hemolytic uremic syndrome?

Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) refers to a spectrum of conditions characterized by hemolysis (the destruction of red blood cells) and uremia (high levels of urea in the blood) and a decrease in blood platelet counts. These conditions occur because the inside lining of the blood vessels becomes inflamed, causing platelets to stick to the inflamed lining. This makes it much more difficult for red blood cells to pass through the blood vessels. Instead, the red blood cells get stuck and become damaged, and they fail to deliver oxygen to the organs, especially the kidneys — sometimes causing kidney injury or kidney failure.

What causes HUS?

HUS can have many causes. “Typical” HUS happens in some individuals who have an intestinal infection (usually caused by a bacterium called E. coli) or a lung infection (usually caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae).

Occasionally, HUS can be caused by things other than infections, such as exposure to certain medications, pregnancy and high blood pressure. HUS in these contexts can be associated with abnormalities in a part of the immune system called the complement system. The types of HUS that are not caused by an intestinal or lung infection are called atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome or aHUS. This type of HUS is often caused by changes in genes that help code for parts of the body’s immune system.

Who gets HUS?

HUS can affect individuals of all ages, ethnicities and genders, but it is more common in children.

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