URL of this page: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000890.htm
HELLP syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur in pregnant women who have:
CausesThe cause of HELLP syndrome has not been found.
HELLP syndrome occurs in about 1 to 2 out of 1,000 pregnancies, and in 10-20% of pregnant women with severe preeclampsia or eclampsia.
Most often HELLP develops before the pregnancy is 37 weeks along. Sometimes it develops in the week after the baby is born.
Many women have high blood pressure and are diagnosed with preeclampsia before they develop HELLP syndrome. In some cases, HELLP symptoms are the first warning of preeclampsia and the condition can be misdiagnosed as:
- Flu or other viral illness
- Gallbladder disease
- Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP)
- Lupus flare
- Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura
- Fatigue or feeling unwell
- Fluid retention and excess weight gain
- Nausea and vomiting that continues to get worse
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen
- Blurry vision
- Nosebleed or other bleeding that won't stop easily (rare)
- Seizures or convulsions (rare)
Exams and TestsDuring a physical examination, the doctor may discover:
- Abdominal tenderness, especially in the right upper side
- Enlarged liver
- High blood pressure
- Swelling in the legs
Tests of the baby's health will be done. Tests include fetal non-stress test, ultrasound, among others.
TreatmentThe main treatment is to deliver the baby as soon as possible, even if the baby is premature. Problems with the liver and other complications of HELLP syndrome can quickly get worse and be harmful to both the mother and child.
Your doctor may induce labor by giving you drugs to start labor, or may perform a C-section.
You may also receive:
- A blood transfusion if bleeding problems become severe
- Corticosteroid medications to help the baby's lungs develop faster
- Medications to treat high blood pressure
Outlook (Prognosis)When the condition is not treated early, up to 1 of 4 women develop serious complications. Without treatment, a small number of women die.
The death rate among babies born to mothers with HELLP syndrome depends on birth weight and the development of the baby's organs, especially the lungs. Many babies are born prematurely (born before 37 weeks of pregnancy).
HELLP syndrome may return in up to 1 out of 4 future pregnancies.
Possible ComplicationsThere can be complications before and after the baby is delivered, including:
- Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) -- a clotting disorder that leads to excess bleeding (hemorrhage)
- Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
- Kidney failure
- Liver hemorrhage and failure
- Separation of the placenta from the uterine wall (placental abruption)
When to Contact a Medical ProfessionalIf symptoms of HELLP syndrome occur during pregnancy:
- See your obstetrician right away
- Call the local emergency number (such as 911)
- Get to the hospital emergency room or labor and delivery unit
ReferencesSibai BM. Hypertension. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, eds. Obstetrics - Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 35.
Wakim-Fleming J. Liver disease in pregnancy. In: Carey WD, ed. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine 2010. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:section 6.