Atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS): Essential aspects of an accurate diagnosis
Herpesvirus 8, Human
Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral
Atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), a thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA), is a rare, life-threatening, systemic disease. When unrecognized or inappropriately treated, aHUS has a high degree of morbidity and mortality. aHUS results from chronic, uncontrolled activity of the alternative complement pathway, which activates platelets and damages the endothelium. Two-thirds of aHUS cases are associated with an identifiable complement-activating condition. aHUS is clinically very similar to the other major TMAs: Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC)-HUS, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). The signs and symptoms of all the TMAs overlap, complicating the differential diagnosis. Clinical identification of a TMA requires documentation of microangiopathic hemolysis accompanied by thrombocytopenia. DIC must be recognized and treated before it is possible to discriminate among the other 3 major TMAs. STEC-HUS can be excluded through testing for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. aHUS can be distinguished from TTP on the basis of ADAMTS13 (a disintegrin and metalloproteinase with a thrombospondin type 1 motif, member 13) activity, with a severe decrease characteristic of TTP. This test, as both an activity assay and an inhibitor assay, should be ordered before the initiation of plasma therapy in any patient presenting with a TMA. Finally, it is important to recognize that aHUS remains a clinical diagnosis, but in complex scenarios, tissue biopsy may be a useful adjunct in diagnosis.