Medical Definition of HELLP syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

HELLP syndrome: A combination of the breakdown of red blood cells (hemolysis; the H in the acronym), elevated liver enzymes (EL), and low platelet count (LP) occurring in pregnancy. HELLP syndrome has been considered to be a complication of preeclampsia and eclampsia (toxemia) of pregnancy, but the syndrome can also occur on its own. Common symptoms include headache, nausea and/or vomiting, and pain in the upper abdomen. Increased fluid in the tissues (edema) is also common. Protein is often found in the urine. Blood pressure may be elevated. Occasionally, coma can result from seriously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Treatment depends upon the stage of pregnancy, the severity of the condition, and the overall health status of the patient and may include corticosteroid medications, blood transfusions, antihypertensive medications, and antiseizure medications. Urgent delivery is required if the health of the fetus is compromised or if the mother's health is at serious risk. HELLP syndrome can be complicated by liver rupture, anemia, bleeding, and death. HELLP syndrome can also develop during the early period after 'delivery of a baby. Women with a history of HELLP 'syndrome are considered at increased risk for complications in future pregnancies.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors