Do You Have Questions?
How Does Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome Cause Kidney Failure?
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is characterized by damage and destruction of the red blood cells, which leads to a lower than normal number of red blood cells (a condition called anemia), blood clots, and damage to blood vessel walls. It is primarily caused by ingesting E. coli bacteria, generally a specific type labeled O157:H7.
Following intestinal damage from an E. coli infection, Shiga toxins created by the bacteria gain access to the blood stream and find their way into the kidneys. There the toxins damage the thin layer of cells that line the interior surface of tiny blood vessels in the glomerulus . Red blood cells are damaged and make tiny blood clots (thrombi) in the filtering system. The result is kidney failure and a host of other severe medical problems.
It is impossible to describe just how horrendous this disease is. Little children can have renal failure, strokes, heart attacks and respiratory failure. Some do not survive. This can happen with one bite of tainted food, and companies that sell that food need to be held accountable.
Hi, my name is Fred Pritzker. My law firm successfully represents people harmed by contaminated food. Contact me if you need help.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of an E. coli infection include:
- bloody diarrhea, which often becomes extreme, watery and possibly explosive;
- severe abdominal pain;
- fever and chills, but not always;
- vomiting, again, not always.
The key symptom is bloody diarrhea.
The next level of illness is generally anemia, which happens because the Shiga toxins created by the E. coli bacteria have destroyed red blood cells, preventing the body’s cells from getting enough oxygen.
Signs and symptoms of anemia may include:
- feeling very tired
- unexplained weakness
If red blood cells in the kidneys are damaged, they can create small blood clots (thrombi). If this happens the sign is going to the bathroom less because the kidneys are not able to make much urine. This is the primary sign and symptom of hemolytic uremic syndrome. Other signs and symptoms may include bruising and seizures.
In some cases, hemolytic uremic syndrome causes acute kidney failure, signs of which include:
- edema, which is swelling of the legs, feet, or ankles, and possibly the hands or face;
- almost nonexistent urine output.
- blood in the urine.
How is HUS Diagnosed?
Please note that the CDC recommends not using antibiotics to treat E. coli infections or HUS. You should talk to your doctor about this.
You need to have a doctor make the diagnosis. He or she will do one or more of the following:
- urine tests
- a blood test
- a stool test to determine if there is an E. coli infection
- kidney biopsy.
In addition to testing a sample of fresh stool (feces), any dried stool around the anal area should also be tested. This is because the deadly E. coli may already have passed through the body, but the dried stool may still have traces of bacteria. It is important to both find the E. coli in the stool and then to do additional genetic testing on the bacterial isolates.
This DNA testing includes pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) and whole genome sequencing (WGS). This will help determine the source of the illness, and it is evidence that can be used to get compensation for the person sickened and, in some cases, that person’s family.
What are the Complications?
HUS complications are severe and can include the following:
- kidney failure requiring hemodialysis
- acute respiratory distress syndrome
- diabetes mellitus
- myocardial infarction
- cardio myopathy
- cardiogenic shock
- congestive heart failure
- cortical blindness
- wrongful death.
The damage done by HUS can be permanent, and patients are faced with the risk of future kidney disease. Read: “Long-term consequences of E. coli-HUS kidney failure.”
With careful and aggressive medical attention, the risk of fatality is less than four percent. Up to 30 percent of the children who survive the disease, however, will be left with permanent damage to their kidneys. Children who recover usually do so quickly, while afflicted adults may experience longer recovery times since kidney damage is usually more extensive in adult cases.
Recent studies show that HUS is now the most common cause of renal failure for children in the U.S. It is recommended that people who recover undergo long-term follow-up and observation to monitor for the potential onset of chronic kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and chronic neurological damage.
Why are Children at Risk?
Young children are more susceptible because their organs and immune systems are not fully developed. If a little one is sickened, he or she may end up in the hospital, on dialysis, fighting to stay alive. Sadly, those who survive are faced with possible future kidney disease, including renal failure and the need for a transplant.
One bite of food contaminated with E. coli 0157 can do this.
Can a Pregnant Woman Develop HUS?
Yes, a 26-year-old pregnant woman (31 weeks) contracted an E. coli O111 infection after eating at a restaurant (see number 6 below, Ito). After 4 days, she was admitted to the hospital with extremely bloody diarrhea and severe abdominal pain.
Upon admittance to the hospital, antibiotics were administered.
The baby was delivered by C-section at 32 weeks. Although small, the baby lived.
The mother, however, went into respiratory arrest and had a heart attack (cardiac arrest). Her resulting Glasgow Coma Scale score was 11. She was diagnosed with HUS and put on hemodiafiltration and plasma exchange therapy.
The damage to her brain was significant. She had diffuse brain cortex damage and acute encephalopathy. When she emerged out of a coma on the 14th day after the C-section, she had to have rehabilitation to recover motor and cognitive functions.
Can Our Family Sue for HUS Kidney Failure from an E. coli Infection?
Yes, your family can sue if your child’s illness can be linked to a food product and/or eating establishment (restaurant, deli, cafeteria). Children are most at risk for developing this complication, and they have legal rights. You can sue a corporate wrongdoer on behalf of your child and make sure your son or daughter has the finances needed for a lifetime of medical expenses caused by the sale of unfood. Read: If my child developed HUS from E. coli O157:H7, should we sue?
In a recent trial, attorney Fred Pritzker and his team won $7.55 million for a child with hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) who lost 50% of her kidney function and is predicted to require dialysis and kidney transplantation in her early twenties.