HELLP Syndrome

Definition

HELLP syndrome is a rare and severe preeclampsia that happens during pregnancy or just after delivery. It stands for:

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

HELLP includes three problems:

  • Hemolysis is the break down of red blood cells. This can lead to anemia.
  • 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.
  • Platelets 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

This problem is more common in White people over the age of 25 years. Other things that may raise the risk are:

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

Symptoms

Some people may not have symptoms. Others may have:

  • Pain in the upper right belly
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Problems seeing
  • Bleeding from the gums

Diagnosis

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

Treatment

The only cure is delivery of your baby. Your doctor may try other treatments until you reach 34 weeks of pregnancy.

Medicines may be given to:

  • Help the fetal lungs mature
  • Prevent seizures in the mother
  • Lower blood pressure in the mother

In some people, transfusions of platelets or red blood cells are used to raise the number of these cells.

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org
American Pregnancy Association
http://americanpregnancy.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Sick Kids—The Hospital for Sick Children
http://www.sickkids.ca
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
https://sogc.org

References:

Hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelets (HELLP) syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hemolysis-elevated-liver-enzymes-low-platelets-hellp-syndrome. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 8/24/2021

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