HELLP syndrome

HELLP  syndrome is a severe form of preeclampsia (high blood pressure and protein loss developing during pregnancy.) It is an acronym for Haemolysis (red blood cells breaking down), ELevated liver enzymes and Low Platelet count.

Preeclampsia usually has no symptoms except for fluid retention (which can be difficult to distinguish from fluid retention that is present in a normal pregnancy). HELLP syndrome can also be asymptomic, but the following could be warning signs: headache, nausea or indigestion, pain in the upper abdomen or shoulder and visual disturbances.

The only definitive treatment for HELLP Syndrome is to deliver the baby. There might be time to administer corticosteroids to improve the baby’s lung maturation.  Corticosteroids might also help to improve the maternal condition.

The baby is often small for the gestational age, and at higher risk of dying in utero or after birth, or surviving with some neurological disability.

In a future pregnancy, there is an increased chance of developing preeclampsia, with about 1/3 women developing preeclampsia before term, 1/3 at term, and 1/3 without problems.  HELLP syndrome can recur as well, especially if it had developed in the second trimester. On the longer term, it is good to have regular check-ups, as HELLP syndrome can be a predictor of hypertension and diabetes later on in life.

Links:

Health 24: pre-eclampsia and eclampsia

Mayo clinic fact sheet on preeclampsia