What is the HELLP syndrome?

The HELLP syndrome is described as a group of symptoms that develop among pregnant women which includes hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and a low platelet count.

  • Hemolysis – breakdown of red blood cells that occurs too soon that results to low red blood cell level and eventually lead to anemia
  • Elevated liver enzymes – this indicates that the liver is not properly functioning. The damaged or inflamed liver cells leak out large amounts of certain chemicals including enzymes into the bloodstream
  • Platelets – these help out with the blood clotting process. If the levels are low, an individual is at risk for substantial bleeding

The HELLP syndrome is known to affect less than 1% of pregnancies. Nevertheless, it is a significant health issue since it can be dangerous to both the mother and the unborn child. Immediate treatment and delivery of the infant are required to achieve the ideal outcome.

The syndrome typically develops during the last trimester of pregnancy, before the 37th week. Nevertheless, the exact cause of the symptoms is still unknown. It is believed that the syndrome is often linked to preeclampsia. In addition, there are also certain factors that increases the risk for developing the syndrome.

HELLP syndrome

The symptoms of HELLP syndrome are strikingly similar to the flu which might seem as “normal” side effects of pregnancy.

What are the indications?

The symptoms of HELLP syndrome are strikingly similar to the flu which might seem as “normal” side effects of pregnancy. Nevertheless, it is vital to consult a doctor immediately if there are flu-like indications throughout pregnancy. The doctor can guarantee that the symptoms do not indicate other serious health issues. The symptoms vary from one individual to another but the typical ones include the following:

  • Stomach pain
  • General feeling of being unwell or fatigued
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache

The other symptoms that might occur include the following:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Swollen face or hands
  • Pain during deep breathing
  • Blurred vision or visual changes
  • Excessive and abrupt weight gain

In rare circumstances, there is also significant episodes of seizures and nosebleeds.

Potential risk factors

The exact cause of HELLP syndrome is still unknown but there are possible factors that can increase the risk for its development.


This is the biggest risk factor for the syndrome. The condition is characterized by high blood pressure and swelling and usually occurs during the last trimester of pregnancy.

Other risk factors include the following:

  • Caucasian
  • Those over age 30
  • Diabetes
  • Poor diet
  • Being overweight
  • Previous pregnancies

One is also at increased risk for HELLP syndrome if a woman acquired the condition during an earlier pregnancy. Remember that the risk is increased for every future pregnancy.

Management of HELLP syndrome

Once the syndrome is confirmed, delivery of the child is the ideal way to prevent any complications. In most cases, the infant is born prematurely.

Nonetheless, the treatment might vary depending on the severity of the symptoms and proximity to the due date. If the symptoms are mild or if the infant is less than 34 weeks old, the doctor might recommend the following:

  • Bed rest either at home or in a healthcare facility
  • Corticosteroid medication to help the lungs of the infant mature in case early delivery is required
  • Transfusion of blood to manage low platelet level and anemia
  • Antihypertensive medications to control the blood pressure
  • Magnesium sulfate to prevent episodes of seizures

During the treatment, the platelet, red blood cell and liver enzyme levels are monitored as well as the health of the infant. Prenatal tests are recommended to assess the heart rate, movement, blood flow and stress


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