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HELLP Syndrome

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Definition

HELLP syndrome is a rare but serious condition. It is a form of severe preeclampsia that occurs during pregnancy or just after delivery. HELLP stands for:

  • H emolysis
  • E levated
  • L iver enzymes
  • L ow
  • P latelet count

HELLP involves three types of problems:

  • Hemolysis is the destruction of red blood cells. This can lead to anemia .
  • High levels of liver enzymes. Liver enzymes are chemicals in the blood that show how well the liver is working. High levels of enzymes mean the liver has been damaged.
  • Low platelet count. Platelets are components that help stop bleeding. A low level of platelets can lead to problems with bleeding.
Red Blood Cells
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The Liver
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Causes

The causes of HELLP syndrome are not known.

Risk Factors

HELLP syndrome is more common in white women over the age of 25 years. Other factors that increase your chance of getting HELLP syndrome include:

  • Two or more previous deliveries
  • Preeclampsia or HELLP in a previous pregnancy

Symptoms

Some women may have no symptoms at all. When they do appear, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Vision changes
  • Bleeding from gums

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include a complete blood count and liver function tests.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will depend on how many weeks along you are in your pregnancy.

Delivery

The only cure for HELLP syndrome is delivery of your baby. If you are 34 weeks pregnant or less, your doctor may recommend trying other treatments until you reach 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Medications

  • Corticosteroids to help the fetal lungs mature if your baby will be premature
  • Magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures in the mother
  • Blood pressure medicines, if your blood pressure is high

In some cases of HELLP, transfusions of platelets or red blood cells are used to increase the number of these cells.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent HELLP syndrome. If you have HELLP with one pregnancy, you are at increased risk to develop it again during another pregnancy. See your doctor regularly during pregnancy. If you develop the condition, it can be treated.

Revision Information

  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

    http://www.acog.org

  • American Pregnancy Association

    http://www.americanpregnancy.org

  • SickKids

    http://www.sickkids.ca

  • The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

    http://www.sogc.org

  • Diagnosis and Management of Preeclampsia and Eclampsia, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Practice Bulletin No 33, January 2002. Reaffirmed 2012.

  • HELLP syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated May 4, 2011. Accessed June 10, 2013.

  • Padden MO. HELLP syndrome: Recognition and perinatal managment. Am Fam Physician . 1999;60(3):829-839.