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by Shannon DW


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
  • L ow
  • P latelet count

HELLP involves 3 types of problems:

  • Hemolysis is the destruction of red blood cells. This can lead to anemia.
  • 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 components that 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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The causes of HELLP syndrome are not known.

Risk Factors

HELLP syndrome is more common in Caucasian women over the age of 25 years. Other factors that increase your chance of getting HELLP syndrome include:

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


Some women may have no symptoms at all. When they do appear, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Vision changes
  • Bleeding from gums


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include a complete blood count and liver function tests.


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


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 if your baby will be premature
  • Magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures in the mother
  • Blood pressure medications, 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.


American Pregnancy Association 

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 


Sick Kids—The Hospital for Sick Children 

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada 


ACOG Committee on Practice Bulletins—Obstetrics. ACOG practice bulletin. Diagnosis and management of preeclampsia and eclampsia. Number 33, January 2002. Obstet Gynecol. 2002;99(1):159-167.

Hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, low platelets (HELLP) syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: . Updated September 25, 2014. Accessed April 7, 2017.

Padden MO. HELLP syndrome: Recognition and perinatal managment. Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(3):829-839.

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