What is HELLP and how is it treated?

HELLP Syndrome is a condition of pregnant women related to Toxemia.  Medically speaking, Toxemia is pregnancy induced hypertension.  Roughly 7% of pregnant women will develop at least mild Toxemia.  Between 2 and 12% of these women will go on to suffer from HELLP Syndrome.  HELLP Syndrome occurs in about one half of one percent of births.  Untreated HELLP Syndrome is fatal to the mother in roughly 2% of cases.

HELLP Syndrome is a unique variant of Toxemia.  HELLP stands for:





H:   Hemolysis – the breaking down of red blood cells

EL:  Elevated Liver enzymes

LP:  Low Platelet count

Symptoms of HELLP may include:

–  headache                  

–  nausea/vomiting

–  epigastric (stomach) tenderness and right upper quadrant pain (from liver distention)

–  severe headache

–  bleeding                

–  visual disturbances

–  swelling 

–  high blood pressure

–  protein in the urine

HELLP Syndrome can be fatal to both the mother and the baby.  HELLP can cause liver rupture or stroke in mom.  Because the symptoms of HELLP are similar to the symptoms of Toxemia, correct diagnosis is critical.  As a result, the mother may not get the right treatment, leaving both mother and baby that much more at risk.

The only definitive treatment for women with HELLP Syndrome is delivery, since the mother’s liver function deteriorates rapidly with HELLP.  If the case of HELLP is severe, premature delivery may be required, typically via c-section.  In less severe cases, the physician may monitor the mother and wait as long as is possible to deliver the baby either through natural or induced labor.

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