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What is HELLP Syndrome – causes, symptoms, and treatment

hellpsyndromeHELLP is a complication that occurs during pregnancy.

It is considered a more serious variation upon preeclampsia, and normally happens in the later stages of pregnancy, and on occasion after birth.

It stands for H – haemolysis (breaking down of red blood cells that can cause anaemia), EL – elevated liver enzymes (showing that the liver is not functioning properly), LP – low platelet count (making it harder for blood to clot when you bleed).

It is a disorder of the blood and liver that can lead to a liver rupture or stroke if it is not treated.

What are the symptoms of HELLP Syndrome?

The symptoms of HELLP syndrome are similar to preeclampsia. They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Indigestion with pain after eating
  • Abdominal or chest tenderness and upper right side pain (from liver distention)
  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain when breathing deeply
  • Changed/blurred vision
  • Swelling
  • Difficulty stopping bleeding (nosebleeds, etc.) – rare
  • Seizures or convulsions – rare

What will the doctor look for to diagnose?

  • High blood pressure
  • Protein in urine

Doctors should run a series of blood tests, including a liver function test, blood pressure measurements, and urine tests to try to diagnose HELLP syndrome.

What is the cause?

As of yet, doctors do not know the exact cause, they just know it is linked to preeclampsia. Unfortunately, the cause for preeclampsia is as yet undetermined as well. There are so many underlying and unrelated issues that can lead to these conditions, that it can be hard to link together the exact things that occur to cause HELLP syndrome or preeclampsia. There are a number of varying conditions and smaller complications (usually not too serious) that can cause a chain reaction of events to occur within the body – and HELLP syndrome occurs as a result of that.

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How do you treat it?

The quickest way to relieve the symptoms and prevent any harm from coming to you or the baby is to deliver the baby. As this syndrome occurs in later pregnancy, this is sometimes not too big an issue. Past 37 weeks, the baby is considered full term, so there shouldn’t be any complications of delivering as soon as you get a diagnosis of HELLP syndrome. After delivery, the symptoms will subside in 2 or 3 days.

If the baby is not at full term, then extra care is necessary before and after the birth. Hospitalisation and close monitoring are important so the condition can be managed to avoid adverse complications. The doctors will give you medicines to control your blood pressure, prevent seizures, and minimise other symptoms. They would also give you steroids for the baby to help their lungs develop quicker so they can be delivered as safely as possible. You may receive blood transfusions if needed.

If you experience HELLP syndrome postnatally, steroids and blood transfusions are usually given.

Who can suffer from HELLP syndrome?

There are no certain characteristics  to indicate who will or will not develop HELLP Syndrome. Statistics show it usually happens in the first pregnancy – but this is not limited. Any pregnancy can have this syndrome occur – and if you have had it once, you are 19-27 per cent more likely to have it again.

HELLP syndrome will occur in 0.2-0.6 per cent of all pregnancies – so it is not a very common condition, though it is incredibly dangerous. Without early treatment, 25 per cent of women develop serious complications – and with no treatment, some women do die from HELLP syndrome. Whether or not the baby will be affected depends on when delivery occurs – so is influenced by birth weight, development of organs, etc.

While this is a very dangerous and scary condition, with early detection and quick treatment, the outcome can be fine for mother and baby. If you are experiencing these symptoms in the later stages of pregnancy, see a doctor and make your concerns known to them. The only thing you can do try to prevent this is to have a healthy lifestyle – there are no known preventatives, but being healthy will help.

NOTE: This article is not a replacement for actual medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your pregnancy you must consult your own health care professional.

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3 comments so far -

  1. In December of 2014 my fiancee and I were expecting our son. We were so excited. On October 29th 2014 my fiancee became ill. I took her to the E.R. where they ran a few test. They said she had a stomach virus that was going around and sent her home. On November 4th 2014 my fiancee was in a lot of pain, couldn’t eat, was vomiting, said it felt like something was leaking inside of her. She couldn’t even move on her own. I put her in the car and took her back to the E.R.. They did some tests again. While we were waiting for the results to come in Anastasia came in and said I here we are having a baby tonight. This was news to us, had no idea. He said her doctor would be in shortly to talk. He came in and said Meggan is very sick, I’d like to explain but don’t have time. She has to have emergency c section right now to save baby and mother. Off they went. My son was born at 36 weeks. Meggan and my son were doing really good. Meggan continued to bleed, blood would not clothes. Blood and platlet transfusions non stop. Meggans liver died, she was on the transplant list for 3 days. On the 3rd morning the doctors came in and told us that my fiancee was so sick that even if they got a liver right then, when they unhook her from all the stuff she was hooked to she would pass away before making it to the operating room. There was nothing else they could do. They quit giving her transfusions, and took her off everything but pain drop, and life support( helped her breath). They sat chairs in her room so we could be with her. It was about 9:30 in the morning when i went in with her. I stood at the head of her bed with my arms wrapped around her and my head resting on herself where i could whisper in her ear. That is where i stayed until 10:53pm when I saw the last beat of her pulse in her neck, felt my arm raise as her chest lifted for the last time, and felt and heard her last gasp of air in my ear. I cannot explain this feeling. It cannot be described in words the pain I felt, and emotional wreck i became. My whole life had left me. I held her and cried until they made me leave. When i got to my car I sat there and was lost in space for i guess 7 or 8 hours. I’m so sorry for anyone who has went through this. This is unbearable.

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