What is HELLP Syndrome?

Picture of Hellp SyndromeHELLP syndrome is a rare and life-threatening condition that can occur during pregnancy or right after delivery. It is considered to be a variant of pre-eclampsia and most often occurs after the 20th week of gestation. HELLP affects the mother’s blood, liver, and blood pressure.

HELLP is an acronym for the different things that the expectant mother will experience while having it.

  • Hemolysis: It refers to the breakdown of your red blood cells. It occurs when the red blood cells are broken down too rapidly. Hemolysis can cause low red blood cell levels and eventually anemia. When the mother has anemia, her blood doesn’t supply enough oxygen to the rest of her body.
  • Elevated Liver Enzymes: High liver enzymes can mean the mother’s liver is not functioning right. An inflamed liver can leak high amounts of enzymes into the bloodstream.
  • Low Platelet Count: Platelets are part of your blood that assist with clotting. Mothers with a low platelet count are at risk of excessive bleeding.

Who are at Risk to Develop HELLP Syndrome?

Around 5% to 8% of pregnant women in the US will develop pre-eclampsia. Out of this percentage, 15% may develop HELLP syndrome symptoms. Roughly around 48,000 women will develop HELLP syndrome in a year.

These numbers can go lower with early and proper pre-eclampsia diagnosis.

What are the Risk Factors for HELLP Syndrome?

Experts believe that some risk factors increase the mother’s chance of developing HELLP syndrome during pregnancy. These risk factors include:

Pre-eclampsia: This includes pre-eclampsia in prior and present pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia is a condition where the mother’s high blood pressure rises, usually in the last trimester of the pregnancy. On rare occasions, it can also be present in the early months of the pregnancy or during postpartum.

Previous Case of HELLP Syndrome: Women who have a history of developing HELLP Syndrome are at a higher risk of getting HELLP again in their next pregnancies. A study shows that 18% of women who have experienced hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) are more likely to develop it again.

Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Having previous pregnancies
  • Having Diabetes
  • Having a kidney disease
  • Age is over 35

What are the Symptoms of HELLP Syndrome?

Some say having HELLP Syndrome will feel like having the stomach flu, and it may feel like normal pregnancy symptoms. It is crucial that the mother immediately seek a doctor if she experiences any flu-like symptoms during pregnancy.

The symptoms can vary from person to person. The most common reported symptoms of HELLP Syndrome include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High protein in the urine
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Abdominal or chest pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Indigestion or feeling of pain after eating
  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain when breathing deeply
  • Bleeding (including nosebleeds)
  • Swelling of the face and hands
  • Jaundice
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Seizures
  • Blurry vision or loss of vision

In most pregnancies, the mother may experience the symptoms between the 28th to the 36th week of the pregnancy. Some experience it earlier or after giving birth.

How is HELLP Syndrome Diagnosed?

HELLP syndrome can sometimes be misdiagnosed, especially if the patient does not have high blood pressure. The mother can sometimes be misdiagnosed with appendicitis, hepatitis, or even flu.

When the expectant mother experiences symptoms of HELLP syndrome, she must talk to her doctor immediately. Her doctor will have to perform various tests and a physical exam when HELLP syndrome is suspected.

The doctor will have to feel for abdominal tenderness, any excessive swelling, or an enlarged liver. He or she will also have to order for the following tests:

  • Blood Tests: This is to test for platelet levels, red blood cells count, and liver enzymes.
  • Urine Test: This is to check them for abnormal levels of protein
  • CT Scans or MRI: This is to check if there is bleeding in the liver
  • Blood Pressure Checks

How is HELLP Syndrome Treated?

Once HELLP syndrome is confirmed, the best way to prevent further complications is to deliver the baby. In most cases, the baby has to be delivered prematurely to stop the disease from progressing.

Treatment for HELLP syndrome may depend on several factors. These factors include but are not limited to:

  • The severity of the symptoms of the expectant mother
  • The gestational age of the fetus

If the baby is more than 23 weeks but less than 34 weeks, and the symptoms of the mother are mild, the doctor may recommend:

Blood transfusion to treat low platelet levels

  • Corticosteroid to help the baby’s lungs mature for early delivery
  • Antihypertensive medication
  • Magnesium sulphate for seizures
  • Complete bed rest
  • Close monitoring of both mother and fetus

The doctor will also monitor the mother’s red blood cell level, platelet count, and liver enzymes levels. She may also spend time in the hospital for close monitoring.

A Caesarean section may be recommended to deliver the baby once HELLP syndrome is confirmed. However, if the mother is already at least 34 weeks pregnant, normal delivery may be attempted if there are no other complications. The American Pregnancy Association recommends a trial of labor because surgeries can cause more complications due to low platelet levels of the mother.

What are the Complications of HELLP Syndrome?

If the doctor fails to diagnose and treat HELLP syndrome on time, it can harm both the mother and the baby. Here are some of the serious complications that the mother may experience as a result of HELLP syndrome:

  • Placental abruption
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Hemorrhage
  • Lung failure
  • Acute renal failure
  • Ruptured liver
  • Stroke

The baby may also experience serious birth injuries, which may include:

  • Intrauterine Growth Restriction
  • Lung failure
  • Hemorrhage
  • Heart problems
  • Infection
  • Apnea
  • Anemia

Seek Legal Help from The Clark Law Office

Did your baby suffer from birth injuries that resulted from misdiagnosed and untreated HELLP syndrome? The Clark Law Office may help you obtain compensation for treatment and lifelong therapy needed by your child.

Our firm has helped thousands of parents in Michigan fight for their children’s claims. Medical negligence is a serious matter, so it’s best to allow lawyers to help you build your case. Contact us now for a free legal consultation.

5/5 - (2 votes)