HELLP syndrome is a rare complication of pregnancy that can affect both the mother and baby. It stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. This serious condition is usually diagnosed in women who have had previous pregnancies or who are taking certain medications. This post will explore HELLP syndrome, its symptoms, the risks for the mother and the unborn baby, its causes, diagnosis and treatment.
Symptoms of HELLP Syndrome
HELLP syndrome symptoms are very similar to preeclampsia. Some of the common signs include the following:
- High blood pressure: Blood pressure rises above 140/90 and stays high.
- Protein in urine: It is a sign of kidney damage, leading to HELLP syndrome.
- Liver problems: The liver starts to fail and allows blood proteins into the urine. This will then cause your kidneys to fail as well.
- Low platelet count: Platelets are needed for clotting, so a low platelet count can increase bleeding during delivery.
- Heart failure: The heart becomes enlarged and does not work properly to keep up with the blood flow needed due to elevated blood pressure and protein levels in the bloodstream.
The Risks for the Mother and Unborn Baby
Untreated, this syndrome can be very dangerous for both the mother and her child. Here, we will explore some of the risks associated with this condition:
- Liver failure: HELLP syndrome is a serious condition in which the liver does not function properly. If the liver is damaged, it will fail to process toxins and remove them from the body, causing a build-up inside your baby’s bloodstream, leading to death if not treated.
- Bleeding: There can be bleeding in several sites within your body, including nose, gums, vagina and even rectum. This can be deadly due to the low platelet count in an already fragile system.
- Damage from swelling: Edema or swelling that occurs in HELLP syndrome can cause damage to major organs such as the heart and lungs. The pressure caused by this edema increases blood flow through vessels so that blood cannot move at a normal rate. This can lead to serious damage to organs if not treated early.
- High risk of death: HELLP syndrome increases the chance of mortality by six to eleven times for both mother and baby. Death rates are dependent on how quickly you get treatment, but it can be lethal if left untreated. It is estimated that more than 15 percent of mothers will die from this condition if they do not get immediate medical attention.
- Premature delivery: When your liver fails due to HELLP syndrome, it begins to produce toxins that build up in your body. This causes the baby’s heartbeat to slow, which causes premature birth. Premature babies have low birth weight, short gut syndrome and other complications that can cause death.
Causes of HELLP Syndrome
The causes of this syndrome are still not very clear. It is understood that it is caused by the blood vessels in the liver becoming too fragile, which results in their rupture, leading to an increase in scar tissue and inflammation. It has been linked to the following:
- Placental abruption: If the placenta separates itself from the uterus, this can lead to HELLP syndrome. This separation leads to an inadequate oxygen supply to the developing fetus. HELLP syndrome does not always follow placental aborting, but the chances of its development are increased.
- Preeclampsia: This condition is characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy due to some factors such as the insufficient amount of nutrients, baby’s rapid growth rate or high glucose levels within the mother’s bloodstream. This condition often results in HELLP syndrome.
- Hemolysis: White blood cells called neutrophils begin to break down the red blood cells causing them to release hemoglobin broken down into bilirubin. This causes you to have jaundice (yellow skin and eyes). Some women with this syndrome may not show signs of jaundice, but their eyes may turn yellow later on in the disease process.
- Retained placenta: If the body does not expel all of the placentas within two to three days after the baby’s birth, this syndrome can occur due to the release of toxins left behind.
Diagnosing HELLP Syndrome
Women must be aware of the signs of HELLP syndrome. The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the better the outcome for both mother and baby.
- Blood and urine tests: Low platelet levels, high liver enzymes, elevated white blood cell counts and high bilirubin levels within the bloodstream are all associated with this syndrome.
- Liver biopsy: The procedure is performed if you have a severe case of this syndrome because it allows the doctor to examine the liver under a microscope.
- Ultrasound examination: This test reveals the presence of clotting problems within your uterus, the size and growth rate of the fetus, amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the baby, blood flow to the placenta, the position of the baby, number of fetuses and placental abnormalities.
Several treatment options are available for HELLP syndrome, depending on how far into your pregnancy you are. One of the most important things you can do during labor is to prevent any bleeding. This means that your doctor(s) may give you drugs to promote contractions or have a vacuum extractor placed on your uterus during delivery. A blood transfusion may be necessary if the mother is experiencing severe cases. The fetus will be monitored frequently to ensure its safety and stability as well as yours. Treatments include the following:
- Corticosteroids: These drugs help reduce inflammation throughout the body. They are typically given intravenously, but depending on severity, they can sometimes be taken orally. Women who receive corticosteroids should not breastfeed for two weeks after treatment.
- Blood pressure medication: This is taken to control high blood pressure levels.
- Anticonvulsants (seizure medication): You may need to take this drug if you are experiencing seizures or convulsions. However, there is some controversy over using this type of medication because its effects on the baby are not always known.
- Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG): This is typically given if you have experienced this syndrome in the past or had a case with an earlier pregnancy. It can also be a preventive measure if this syndrome has occurred during the current pregnancy.
- Blood transfusion: This may be necessary if the mother experiences severe blood loss and anemia.
In conclusion, HELLP syndrome can be very dangerous to both mother and baby; however, it is also highly treatable if caught early. If you experience any signs or symptoms of this syndrome, please contact your doctor immediately for further instructions.