What is HELLP Syndrome?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on February 29, 2024
3 min read

HELLP syndrome is a rare but serious condition that can happen when you’re pregnant or right after you have your baby. HELLP stands for the different things that happen when you have it:

Hemolysis: This is the breakdown of red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen from your lungs to your body.

Elevated Liver Enzymes: When levels are high, it could mean there’s a problem with your liver.

Low Platelet Count: Platelets help your blood clot.

HELLP syndrome causes problems with your blood, liver, and blood pressure. If left untreated, these issues can hurt you and your baby.

There may be a link between HELLP syndrome and preeclampsia and eclampsia. Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and damage to other organs such as their liver and kidneys. It usually starts after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Eclampsia is a more severe form of preeclampsia that includes seizures.

HELLP syndrome can cause major complications. These include:

Placental abruption can cause bleeding, affect your baby’s growth, and lead to premature birth or stillbirth.

Doctors don’t know what causes HELLP syndrome. Your chance of it is higher if you’ve had it before. Most women who get it have high blood pressure first. But you can get HELLP with normal blood pressure.

Experts think your odds may be higher if you:

  • Are older than 25
  • Are Caucasian
  • Have given birth two or more times before

These often come on quickly. They include:

If you have symptoms of HELLP syndrome, talk to your doctor. They’ll do a physical exam and tests to check for things like:

The main solution for HELLP syndrome is to give birth as soon as possible. This means your baby may have to be born early. The risks are too serious for you and your baby if you stay pregnant with HELLP syndrome.

Treatment may also include:

  • Corticosteroid medicine to help your baby’s lungs develop more quickly
  • Medicine for high blood pressure
  • Meds to prevent seizures
  • Blood transfusion

There’s no way to prevent HELLP syndrome. The best thing you can do is keep yourself healthy before and during pregnancy and watch for early signs of the condition. The following steps can help:

  • See your doctor regularly for prenatal visits.
  • Tell your doctor if you’ve had any high-risk pregnancies or someone in your family has had HELLP syndrome, preeclampsia, or other blood pressure problems.
  • Know the symptoms and call your doctor ASAP if you have them.