HELLP syndrome is a rare pregnancy complication. It is a type of preeclampsia and has similar symptoms. If you have HELLP syndrome, you may experience pain in the upper part of your belly, blurred vision, fatigue or swelling. Many women who have HELLP syndrome need to deliver their baby early.
HELLP syndrome is a pregnancy complication. It is a type of preeclampsia. It usually occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy. But it also can develop in the first week after childbirth (postpartum preeclampsia).
The name HELLP syndrome stands for:
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Preeclampsia leads to high blood pressure (hypertension) and proteinuria (high levels of protein in the urine). HELLP syndrome is a separate disorder from preeclampsia as patients may not have high blood pressure or proteinuria. It can lead to serious blood and liver problems.
HELLP syndrome is very rare that occurs in 0.1% to 1% of pregnancies.
There is no known cause of HELLP syndrome. Women who have preeclampsia or eclampsia (uncontrolled preeclampsia) have a higher risk of HELLP syndrome. Up to 1 in 5 women who have preeclampsia or eclampsia develop HELLP syndrome.
Other risk factors for HELLP syndrome include:
Women may notice HELLP syndrome symptoms while they are pregnant or shortly after childbirth. Signs of HELLP syndrome include:
In rare cases, you may also experience:
To diagnose HELLP syndrome, your healthcare provider will ask you about physical changes such as:
Often, blood pressure can be elevated and there can be proteinuria but there doesn’t have to be. Your healthcare provider will order blood tests are ordered to check your blood count, liver function and kidney function.
In severe cases, your healthcare provider may use an ultrasound or CT scan to check for an enlarged liver or bleeding in your liver.
Managing HELLP syndrome may include taking medications to lower your blood pressure and prevent seizures. Some women require a blood transfusion. In this treatment, you receive donated blood or blood components.
Ultimately, treatment for HELLP syndrome is delivery. If you have HELLP syndrome, you may need to deliver your baby early. Your provider may give your baby corticosteroids to help their lungs develop.
There is no known way to prevent HELLP syndrome. Be sure to get regular prenatal care. Your provider will keep an eye on your blood pressure and other vital signs to catch problems like HELLP early. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you take a low dose aspirin after the first trimester if you are at high-risk for HELLP syndrome.
You can increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy by:
Untreated HELLP syndrome can lead to serious complications, including:
HELLP syndrome is rarely life-threatening. Most women experience symptom improvement within two days of giving birth.
In general, the longer the pregnancy continues, the better the outcome for the newborn. If a newborn weighs at least two pounds, the health risks and survival rates are similar to those of a non-HELLP baby of the same size.
Prematurity may lead to other health complications or increased mortality risk. However, HELLP syndrome itself does not affect the newborn’s liver function or other organs.
If you have HELLP syndrome once, your risk increases for having it again. Up to half of women who had HELLP syndrome can have some type of hypertensive disorder in her next pregnancy. Up to 1 in 5 women who have HELLP syndrome experience it a second time.
HELLP syndrome can lead to severe health complications if left untreated. If you have any symptoms, please contact your provider. If you have severe symptoms such as heavy bleeding or seizures, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
HELLP syndrome is a rare pregnancy complication. It is a type of preeclampsia that causes elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. If you experience signs of HELLP syndrome, get care right away. Many women who have HELLP syndrome need to give birth early to prevent health complications. HELLP syndrome is rarely life-threatening. For most women with HELLP, symptoms improve within a few days of giving birth.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/12/2021.
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