Conditions & Treatments

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a rare condition that mostly affects children under the age of 10. It is often characterized by damage to the lining of blood vessel walls, destruction of red blood cells, and kidney failure.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)

Illustration of the anatomy of the kidney
Click Image to Enlarge

What is HUS?

Hemolytic uremic syndrome is a rare condition that primarily affects children under the age of 10. It is often characterized by:

  • Damage to the lining of blood vessel walls

  • Destruction of red blood cells

  • Kidney failure

What causes HUS?

Most cases of HUS occur after an infection in the digestive tract caused by the E. coli bacterium, O157:H7, the most common type in the United States. Diarrhea and upper respiratory infections are the most common precipitating factors in contracting HUS. This type of E. coli can be found in undercooked meat and is one of the causes of restaurant-related food poisoning outbreaks. HUS is less common in adults, but may occur more often in pregnant women, women who have been taking oral contraceptives, and women who are postpartum or having obstetric complications.

How might HUS progress?

The first stage of HUS frequently lasts from one to 15 days and may include gastrointestinal symptoms, such as:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • Vomiting

Severe problems in the bowel and colon may develop in some cases. In these cases, even if the gastroenteritis has stopped, a child may still exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue

  • Small, unexplained bruises or small, clot-sized hemorrhages visible in the mucosal lining of the mouth

  • Paleness

The child may produce little urine because damaged red blood cells and other factors may clog the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys or cause lesions in the kidneys, making the kidneys work harder to remove wastes and extra fluid from the blood.

The body's inability to rid itself of excess fluid and waste may, in turn, cause:

  • High blood pressure

  • Swelling of the hands and feet

  • Generalized fluid accumulation (edema)

The symptoms of HUS may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult a doctor for diagnosis.

What does treatment for HUS commonly involve?

There is no known treatment that can stop the progress of the syndrome once it has started. It is important for your doctor to distinguish this disease from a similar condition called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, which does have a specific treatment.

A treatment regimen for HUS will be established by your doctor based on your individual condition. Most treatments are aimed at easing the immediate symptoms and signs of this disease and at preventing further complications. This may include any or all of the following:

  • Treatment of high blood pressure

  • Maintaining specific levels of fluids and salts

  • Blood transfusions

  • Kidney dialysis

  • Medication

What is the prognosis for for HUS?

Most children with HUS recover fully. A few, however, will have lasting kidney damage.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
  • Adult Medicine Imaging
    The Adult Medicine Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers a wide range of diagnostic exams and minimally invasive, image-guided treatments, all provided using leading-edge equipment and interpreted by specialty-trained radiologists.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Transplant Surgery
    The Pediatric Transplant Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children is a major referral center for organ transplants for children.
Transplant Center

  • Kidney/Pancreas/Islet Transplant Programs
    The Kidney/Pancreas/Islet Transplant Programs at Massachusetts General Hospital provide new and unique treatment options for patients with end-stage renal disease (kidney failure) and/or type 1 diabetes.
Nephrology Division

  • Center for Renal Education
    The Center for Renal Education provides education about Chronic Kidney Disease and its management and individualized plans of care that include nutritional counseling, blood pressure management, medication review and supportive services.
  • Resistant Hypertension Program
    The Resistant Hypertension Program specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis and management of patients with resistant or difficult to treat hypertension.
  • Chronic Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD) Program
    The Peritoneal Dialysis Unit provides training and long term management for the patient who selects peritoneal dialysis as home therapy. Staffed by experienced peritoneal dialysis nurses, manual and automated home peritoneal dialysis is available.
  • Renal Associates Clinic
    Renal Associates provides services in general nephrology including diabetes, water and electrolyte disorders, kidney disease in pregnancy, urinary tract infections, and primary and secondary diseases of the kidney.
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Clinic
    The Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital specializes in the diagnosis and management of cystic kidney diseases.

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

View all departments

Departments and Centers at Mass General have a reputation for excellence in patient care. View a list of all departments.