What Is the Cause of HELLP Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2022
Cause of HELLP Syndrome
HELLP syndrome is a type of preeclampsia that causes damage to organs.

HELLP syndrome is a rare complication that occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy but sometimes may occur after the first week of delivery. It is a complicated type of preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension).

The exact cause of HELLP syndrome is unknown, but most women who get it have increased blood pressure during pregnancy.

Women with preeclampsia and eclampsia are at a high risk of HELLP syndrome. One out of every five women with either preeclampsia or eclampsia develops HELLP syndrome.

Other risk factors for HELLP syndrome include:

  • Age (older than 35 years)
  • History of HELLP syndrome
  • History of preeclampsia
  • History of multiple pregnancies
  • History of diabetes or any renal diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Ethnicity (Caucasian women are at a high risk of HELLP syndrome)

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP stands for different things such as:

HELLP syndrome causes various problems with the blood and liver and increased blood pressure. If it is not treated in time, it may be fatal to both mother and baby.

What are the symptoms of HELLP syndrome?

Women with HELLP syndrome may observe the symptoms in the third trimester or soon after the baby's birth.

Symptoms include:

In a few cases, symptoms of HELLP syndrome are the primary signs of preeclampsia.

Sometimes, this condition is misdiagnosed as:

What are the complications of HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a type of preeclampsia that causes damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia usually starts in the 20th week of pregnancy.

HELLP syndrome leads to major complications that include:

  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Liver damage
  • Placental abruption (a condition in which the placenta gets separated from the uterus before giving birth to the baby, causing uncontrolled bleeding)

How to diagnose HELLP syndrome

If you have HELLP syndrome, check with your healthcare provider.

First, your doctor will do a physical examination and check the following:

  • Abdominal tenderness, particularly in the right upper quadrant
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Increased blood pressure
  • An enlarged liver
  • Liver and kidney function tests
  • A complete blood picture to find out the platelet count
  • A CT scan to check for any bleeding in the liver or any swelling in the liver
  • Tests to check the health of the baby, such as a fetal nonstress test and an ultrasound


Conception: The Amazing Journey from Egg to Embryo See Slideshow

What is the treatment of HELLP syndrome?

The primary treatment of HELLP syndrome includes:

  • Delivering the baby, even if it is premature (The more the woman is pregnant after being diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, the higher the risks of complications for both the mother and her child, which may sometimes cause severe complications in both of them.)
  • Inducing labor with the help of medications or performing a cesarean delivery
  • Managing the syndrome that includes medications required to lower blood pressure levels and drugs to treat seizures
  • Performing a blood transfusion if there are any bleeding problems
  • Giving corticosteroids to newborns to help develop their lungs quickly

How to reduce the risk of HELLP syndrome

There is no way to prevent HELLP syndrome. The only option is to stay healthy before and during the pregnancy.

Go for regular checkups during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider may keep track of vital signs and blood pressure.

Inform your doctor if there is any history of HELLP syndrome in the family or during your previous pregnancy and any history of preeclampsia and other health issues.

Know the symptoms and call the doctor as soon as possible.

Ways to stay healthy during pregnancy:

  • Eating healthy diets such as whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables
  • Exercising moderately as instructed by the professional trainer
  • Following the regular prenatal care visits
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Sleeping for at least eight to nine hours per night
Medically Reviewed on 10/14/2022
Image Source: iStock image