HELLP Syndrome

HELLP syndrome is a rare pregnancy complication. It is a type of preeclampsia and has similar symptoms. If you have HELLP syndrome, you may experience pain in the upper part of your belly, blurred vision, fatigue or swelling. Many women who have HELLP syndrome need to deliver their baby early.

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a pregnancy complication. It is a type of preeclampsia. It usually occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy. But it also can develop in the first week after childbirth (postpartum preeclampsia).

The name HELLP syndrome stands for:

  • H: Hemolysis, breaking down of red blood cells (cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body).

  • EL: Elevated liver enzymes (chemicals that speed up body reactions, such as breaking down proteins).

  • LP: Low platelet count (parts of your blood that help with clotting).

Causes of HELLP syndrome

There is no known cause of HELLP syndrome. Women who have preeclampsia or eclampsia (uncontrolled preeclampsia) have a higher risk of HELLP syndrome. Up to 1 in 5 women who have preeclampsia or eclampsia develop HELLP syndrome.

Other risk factors for HELLP syndrome include:

  • Age, with risk increasing for women over 25.

  • History of HELLP syndrome in a previous pregnancy.

  • Previous labor and delivery, with risk increasing for women who have given birth more than once before.

  • Race, with white women at higher risk

Symptoms of HELLP syndrome

  • The most common symptom is abdominal pain, usually in the right upper quadrant or mid-epigastric area.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Malaise or fatigue.

  • Edema (swelling) and quick weight gain.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Less commonly, blurred vision or headache.

Diagnosis of HELLP syndrome

To diagnose HELLP syndrome, your healthcare provider will ask you about physical changes such as:

  • Belly pain, especially in the upper right side.

  • Leg swelling.

Often, blood pressure can be elevated and there can be proteinuria but there doesn’t have to be. Your healthcare provider will order blood tests are ordered to check your blood count, liver function and kidney function.

In severe cases, your healthcare provider may use an ultrasound or CT scan to check for an enlarged liver or bleeding in your liver.

Treatment of HELLP syndrome

  • Managing HELLP syndrome may include taking medications to lower your blood pressure and prevent seizures.

  • Some women require a blood transfusion.

  • In this treatment, you receive donated blood or blood components.

  • Ultimately, treatment for HELLP syndrome is delivery.

  • If you have HELLP syndrome, you may need to deliver your baby early.

  • Your provider may give your baby corticosteroids to help their lungs develop.

  • Your healthcare provider may give you medicine to induce labor.

  • Or you may need to deliver with a cesarean birth (C-section).

diseases treatments syndromes disorders health hellp-syndrome

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