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by Shannon DW

Definition

HELLP syndrome is a rare and serious health problem. It is a form of 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

HELLP syndrome is more common in White women over the age of 25 years. Other factors that raise your chances of getting this are:

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

Symptoms

Some women may not have symptoms. When they do happen, symptoms may be:

  • Pain in your upper right belly
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Eyesight changes
  • Bleeding from the gums

Diagnosis

Your 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

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will depend on how many weeks you are in your pregnancy.

Delivery

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

Medications

Medicines may:

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

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

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent HELLP syndrome.

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 Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T167833/Hemolysis-elevated-liver-enzymes-low-platelets-HELLP-syndrome . Updated September 25, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2019.

Magee LA, Helewa M, et al. Diagnosis, evaluation, and management of the hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2014 May;36(5):416-438

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