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 (showing liver damage)
- L ow P latelet count
HELLP involves three types of problems:
- Hemolysis—(the destruction of red blood cells) can lead to anemia (low red blood cells).
- 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 cells that help bleeding stop, a low level of platelets can lead to problems with bleeding.
The causes of HELLP syndrome are not known. The syndrome occurs in about 4 of every 1,000 pregnancies.
Risk factors that increase your chance of getting HELLP syndrome include:
- Age: over 25
- Race: White
- Two or more previous deliveries
- Preeclampsia or HELLP in a previous pregnancy
Some women may have no symptoms at all. Symptoms of HELLP syndrome:
- Feeling tired
- Pain in your upper right abdomen
- Bad headaches
- Black spots in your vision
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You may need to be referred to a doctor who specializes in high risk obstetrics.
Tests may include:
- Complete blood count
- Liver function tests
Your doctor may send you to a hospital that can provide special care for pregnant women.
Treatment options include the following:
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.
- Corticosteroids to help the fetal lungs mature
- 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.
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.
- Reviewer: Andrea Chisholm
- Review Date: 11/2012 -
- Update Date: 11/26/2012 -