HELLP 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:
- 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
- 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.
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.