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HELLP Syndrome

Condition Basics

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a serious liver disorder that can develop during pregnancy. HELLP stands for H emolysis (destruction of red blood cells), E levated L iver enzymes, and L ow P latelet count. HELLP is usually related to preeclampsia. In most cases it happens in the third trimester, but it can also happen right after childbirth.

What are the symptoms of HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome often occurs without warning and can be hard to recognize. It can occur without the signs of preeclampsia. (These signs usually include high blood pressure and protein in the urine.) Symptoms of HELLP syndrome include:

  • Headache.
  • Vision problems.
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen (liver).
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice).

HELLP syndrome can be dangerous for both you and your baby. If you have these symptoms, you need emergency medical treatment.

How is HELLP syndrome treated?

You may get medicines such as:

  • Magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures (eclampsia).
  • Medicines to control severe high blood pressure.
  • Blood transfusions to treat anemia and a low platelet count.
  • Corticosteroids to help prepare your baby's lungs for birth if the pregnancy is less than 34 weeks.

When HELLP syndrome happens during pregnancy, it usually goes away after delivery. You may need to deliver your baby early. You may be able to have a vaginal delivery. But a caesarean section may be needed for your or your baby's safety.

What happens as you recover from HELLP syndrome?

You will probably start to get better within a few days after delivery. But in some cases, it can take longer. This is especially true if you've had a serious problem due to HELLP, such as bleeding. Your doctor or midwife will closely monitor your recovery.

After having HELLP syndrome, you are at high risk for problems during future pregnancies. Make sure that your doctor or midwife knows about this part of your health history. You'll need to be checked often during and after any pregnancy.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: November 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
William Gilbert MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine

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