HELLP Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

HELLP syndrome is a serious complication that requires extreme care during pregnancy. Pay attention to the following risk factors and symptoms for early detection.
HELLP Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Last update: 25 September, 2018

HELLP syndrome is a condition that can arise during pregnancy that poses serious risk to the life of both mother and baby. The characteristics of this syndrome include a series of symptoms.

These symptoms are thought to be related to complications having to do with preeclampsia or eclampsia. Given how dangerous this syndrome can be, it’s important that women know the signs and be on alert if they present any symptoms.

The meaning and causes of HELLP syndrome

The word HELLP is an acronym that stands for the following: (H) hemolysis or destruction of red blood cells; (EL) elevated liver enzymes; and (LP) low platelet count.

It’s often associated with preeclampsia. However, there have also been cases where preeclampsia wasn’t diagnosed.

This syndrome attacks an estimated 0.1% of pregnant women. This number rises to 15% in women who have suffered hypertension. It generally appears in the third trimester of pregnancy and is more frequent in the weeks prior to birth.

The causes of HELLP syndrome are unknown to experts. However, women belonging to the following groups are more prone to developing this condition:

  • Women with blood clotting disorders, liver disorders, and high blood pressure.
  • White women over 25 years of age.
  • Women who have suffered preeclampsia or eclampsia.
  • Women who had problems in previous pregnancies.

These risk factors can undoubtedly help determine the proper diagnosis of this syndrome, which is of vital importance. In many cases, doctors confuse this syndrome with the flu, hepatitis, lupus and other conditions .

HELLP Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

The symptoms of HELLP syndrome

The symptomatology of HELLP syndrome is very broad and varied in each case that presents itself. It’s often confused with preeclampsia and other illnesses. The general symptoms are the following:

  • Acute and persistent headaches, vomiting, nausea and a sense of indigestion
  • Abdominal sensibility, specifically in the upper left side, since it involves liver distension
  • High blood pressure accompanied by changes in vision
  • General discomfort and acute fatigue
  • Generalized edema and proteins in urine
  • In acute cases, HELLP syndrome also include bloody nose and gums, epilepsy, convulsions, muscle pain, and other symptoms.

Because the symptoms of HELLP syndrome can be similar to those of the flu, doctors should order a hemogram. It’s also important to do testing to determine the liver enzymes of all pregnant women, whether or not they present symptoms.

“In many cases, doctors confuse this syndrome with the flu, hepatitis, lupus and other conditions”

The diagnosis of HELLP syndrome

To establish the presence of this condition, doctors will perform blood tests. These tests will determine possible hemolytic anemia, liver malfunction or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). This condition can appear in women during pregnancy as well as the postpartum period.

At the same time, this syndrome can include high blood pressure, but doesn’t always. Doctors will also perform tests to determine the level of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and bilirubin.

Once diagnosed, patients will be admitted to the hospital for frequent controls, both of mother and baby. It’s best to stabilize blood levels and be close to immediate medical attention.

In most cases, treatment will consist of bedrest and, in extreme cases, doctors may have to perform a C-section and interrupt the pregnancy.

HELLP Syndrome: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

The complications of HELLP syndrome

The complications that arise from HELLP syndrome will depend on how soon diagnosis takes place. The most common difficulties with treatment include:

  • Convulsions: These occur as the result of reduced blood flow.
  • Bleeding: Given the decomposition of red blood cells, which produces anemia and make clotting difficult.
  • Renal insufficiency: Detached retina, pulmonary edema, liver damage, difficulty breathing, detached placenta.

It’s impossible for the fetus to escape the consequences of this syndrome. In most cases, it involves inducing labor or C-section. In some cases, babies may present fetal suffering, blood disorders, low birth weight, breathing problems, and even death.

Is there any way to prevent HELLP syndrome?

There is no way to prevent this condition. However, there are measures women can take to reduce the risk.

Some of these measures include frequent prenatal controls, including tests that determine the stability of their health. Prior to pregnancy, women should exercise, watch their diets, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In conclusion, HELLP syndrome is a serious condition that requires constant medical supervision. Early diagnosis can make all the difference, so be sure to see your doctor if you have any symptoms.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.