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HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening liver disorder thought to be a type of severe preeclampsia. It is characterized by Hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), Elevated Liver enzymes (which indicate liver damage), and Low Platelet count.
HELLP is usually related to preeclampsia. About 10% to 20% of women who have severe preeclampsia develop HELLP.1 In most cases, this happens before 35 weeks of pregnancy, though it can also develop right after childbirth.1
HELLP syndrome often occurs without warning and can be difficult to recognize. It can occur without the signs of preeclampsia (which are usually a large increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine). Symptoms of HELLP syndrome include:
HELLP syndrome can be life-threatening for both the mother and her fetus. A woman with symptoms of HELLP syndrome requires emergency medical treatment.
Delivery is the only known way to reverse HELLP syndrome. Vaginal delivery is often possible, but a cesarean is used if the mother or fetus is not medically stable. Before delivery, treatment with medicines is used to:
Most women begin to recover from HELLP within a few days after delivery. But for some women, especially those who have had complications of HELLP, it can take longer. Your doctor will monitor your recovery.
After having HELLP syndrome, you are considered high-risk for complications during any future pregnancies. Make sure that your doctor knows about this part of your health history—you will require close monitoring during any pregnancy and postpartum period.
CitationsHabli M, Sibai BM (2008). Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. In RS Gibbs et al., eds., Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology, 10th ed., pp. 257–275. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: June 4, 2014
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & William Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
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