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HELLP Syndrome

Condition Basics

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening liver disorder thought to be a type of severe pre-eclampsia. It is characterized by H emolysis (destruction of red blood cells), E levated Li ver enzymes (which indicate liver damage), and L ow P latelet count.

HELLP is usually related to pre-eclampsia. In most cases, this happens before 35 weeks of pregnancy, though it can also develop right after childbirth.

What are the symptoms of HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome often occurs without warning and can be hard to recognize. It can occur without the signs of pre-eclampsia. (These signs usually include a large increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine.) Symptoms of HELLP syndrome include:

  • Headache.
  • Vision problems.
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen (liver).
  • Shoulder, neck, and other upper body pain. (This pain also starts in the liver.)
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Seizure.

HELLP syndrome can be dangerous for both you and your baby. If you have these symptoms, you need emergency medical treatment.

How is HELLP syndrome treated?

Delivering the baby is the only known way to reverse HELLP syndrome. You may be able to have a vaginal delivery. But a caesarean may be needed for your or your baby's safety.

Before delivery, you will get medicines to:

  • Prevent seizures, known as eclampsia. (Magnesium sulfate prevents seizures.)
  • Control severe high blood pressure.
  • Mature your baby's lungs if the pregnancy is less than 34 weeks. (You may get corticosteroid shots for this.)

What happens as you recover from HELLP syndrome?

You will probably start to recover from HELLP within a few days after delivery. But in some cases, it can take longer. This is especially true for those who've had complications of HELLP. Your doctor will monitor your recovery.

After having HELLP syndrome, you're considered high-risk for complications during any future pregnancies. Make sure that your doctor knows about this part of your health history. You'll need to be checked often during and after any pregnancy.


Current as of: November 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
William Gilbert MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine