HELLP Syndrome

What is HELLP Syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Both conditions usually occur during the later stages of pregnancy, or sometimes after childbirth.

HELLP syndrome was named by Dr. Louis Weinstein in 1982 after its characteristics:

H (hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells)
EL (elevated liver enzymes)
LP (low platelet count)

HELLP syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, especially when high blood pressure and protein in the urine aren’t present. Its symptoms are sometimes mistaken for gastritis, flu, acute hepatitis, gall bladder disease, or other conditions.

The mortality rate of HELLP syndrome has been reported to be as high as 25%. That’s why it’s critical for expecting mothers to be aware of the condition and its symptoms so they can receive early diagnosis and treatment.


Symptoms of HELLP Syndrome

The physical symptoms of HELLP Syndrome may seem at first like preeclampsia. Pregnant women developing HELLP syndrome have reported experiencing one or more of these symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting/indigestion with pain after eating
  • Abdominal or chest tenderness and upper right upper side pain (from liver distention)
  • Shoulder pain or pain when breathing deeply
  • Bleeding
  • Changes in vision
  • Swelling


Signs to look for include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Protein in the urine

The most common reasons for mothers to become critically ill or die are liver rupture or stroke (cerebral oedema or cerebral hemorrhage). These can usually be prevented when caught in time. If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, please see a healthcare provider immediately.


Treatment of HELLP Syndrome

Most often, the definitive treatment for women with HELLP Syndrome is the delivery of their baby. During pregnancy, many women suffering from HELLP syndrome require a transfusion of some form of blood product (red cells, platelets, plasma). Corticosteroids can be used in early pregnancy to help the baby’s lungs mature. Some healthcare providers may also use certain steroids to improve the mother’s outcome, as well.


Source: The Pre-Eclampsia Foundation (www.preeclampsia.org)