Plasma VIII:von Willebrand factor antigen (VIII:vWF) levels were elevated approximately two- to eightfold in seven patients (three adults and four children) during acute episodes of thrombocytopenia, renal failure, and hemolytic anemia (the hemolytic-uremic syndrome, HUS). In all seven patients, there was an alteration in plasma VIII:vWF patterns during these acute HUS episodes, so that the largest VIII:vWF forms were relatively decreased. Plasma VIII:vWF multimer patterns returned to normal, or nearly to normal, as platelet counts returned to preexisting levels, even in the patients whose recovery of renal function was incomplete and whose plasma VIII:vWF antigen level remained above normal. The sister of one of the HUS patients had a similar clinical prodrome (gastroenteritis) that was not followed by thrombocytopenia or renal failure and was not accompanied by an elevated level or abnormal forms of plasma VIII:vWF. These results suggest that an alteration in VIII:vWF metabolism, distribution, or interaction with platelets is associated with acute HUS episodes. In contrast to patients with chronic relapsing thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, none of the HUS patients (either during or after the acute HUS episodes) had a defect in the conversion of unusually large VIII:vWF multimers derived from endothelial cells to the VIII:vWF forms found in normal plasma.