If you've never heard of HELLP, you might've seen the title of this post and thought I'd misspelled something, but nope. Its an acronym that stands for:

H (hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells)
EL (elevated liver enzymes)
LP (low platelet count)

HELLP syndrome was named by Dr. Louis Weinstein in 1982 and it is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Both conditions usually occur during the later stages of pregnancy, or sometimes after childbirth.

HELLP syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, especially when high blood pressure and protein in the urine aren't present. Its symptoms are sometimes mistaken for gastritis, flu, acute hepatitis, gall bladder disease, or other conditions.

Globally, HELLP syndrome is estimated to affect as high as 25% of the population which is why it's critical for expecting mothers to be aware of the condition and its symptoms to try and receive an early diagnosis and necessary treatment.


Pregnant women developing HELLP syndrome often experience one or more of the following symptoms, which may at first seem like precclampsia:

  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting/indigestion with pain after eating
  • Abdominal or chest tenderness and upper right upper side pain (from liver distention)
  • Shoulder pain or pain when breathing deeply
  • Bleeding
  • Changes in vision
  • Swelling

These symptoms are usually accompanied by high blood pressure and/or protein in the urine and are not things to be ignored. As you've read several times on this blog, I always think its better to play things safe and even seem a little paranoid about things. Be your own advocate for your health and for the health of your baby. If you aren't willing to do it, you can't expect anyone else to do it for you. 

The most common reasons for mothers to become critically ill or die are liver rupture or stroke (cerebral edema or cerebral hemorrhage). These can usually be prevented when caught in time.

If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, please see a healthcare provider immediately.

Most often, the "treatment" for women with HELLP Syndrome is the delivery of their baby. During pregnancy, many women suffering from HELLP syndrome require a transfusion of red blood cells, platelets, and/or plasma. Steroids can be used in early pregnancy to help the baby's lungs mature. Some healthcare providers may also use certain steroids to improve the mother's outcome, as well. 

Much of the information you've read here can be found on this site and if you'd like more detailed information about HELLP, it is an excellent resource. 

Yes. HELLP (and Precclampsia) can be scary, life-threatening to a mother and/or her unborn child and these things are far too often missed in prenatal and postpartum care. This post is more of a dire one, but its so important to give you the facts and educate you about what can happen. I believe knowledge empowers and I hope that by reading this you feel more well-equipped to take on what could potentially affect your pregnancy or the pregnancy of someone you know. 

Did you have HELLP? Do you want to share your story? I'd love to hear from you.