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HELLP Syndrome

HELLP syndrome is a rare but serious condition. It is a form of severe pre-eclampsia that occurs during pregnancy or just after delivery. HELLP stands for:

  • H emolysis
  • E levated
  • L iver enzymes
  • L ow
  • P latelet count

HELLP involves three types of problems:

  • Hemolysis, the destruction of red blood cells, can lead to anemia
  • High levels of liver enzymes, the chemicals in the blood that show how well the liver is working, which can indicate liver damage
  • Low platelet count, which can lead to problems with bleeding
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Red Blood Cells
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The causes of HELLP syndrome are not known. We do know that HELLP syndrome is more common in white women over the age of 25 years. Other factors that increase your chance of getting HELLP syndrome include:

  • Two or more previous deliveries
  • Pre-eclampsia or HELLP in a previous pregnancy

HELLP Syndrome Symptoms

Some women may have no symptoms at all. When they do appear, symptoms may include:

  • Pain in your upper right abdomen
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Vision changes
  • Bleeding from gums

To diagnose your condition, your doctor may perform a complete blood count and liver function tests.

Treating HELLP

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will depend on how many weeks along you are in your pregnancy.


The only cure for HELLP syndrome is delivery of your baby. If you are 34 weeks pregnant or less, your doctor may recommend trying other treatments until you reach 34 weeks of pregnancy.


  • Corticosteroids to help the fetal lungs mature if your baby will be premature
  • Magnesium sulfate to prevent seizures in the mother
  • Blood pressure medicines, if your blood pressure is high

In some cases of HELLP, transfusions of platelets or red blood cells are used to increase the number of these cells.


Call 434.243.3675.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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