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What Is HELLP Syndrome?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A small percentage of pregnant women who suffer from a potentially life-threatening group of complications known as hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count (HELLP). HELLP syndrome can result in a liver disease, kidney failure, or heart problems in mothers, and permanent brain and organ damage in unborn babies. Women in the early stages of the disorder often experience nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, and debilitating headaches that get worse over time. The only proven action to provide relief from HELLP syndrome is delivering the baby, whether or not it has fully developed to maturity inside the womb.

A mother who experiences the first symptoms of HELLP syndrome might feel fatigued, dizzy, and nauseous for long periods of time. Such feelings are often accompanied by vomiting, high blood pressure, vision problems, chronic headaches, and abdomen pain. Some women also suffer from edema and abnormal swelling or tingling in their extremities due to decreased renal and liver functioning. In severe cases, the mother's liver can burst and hemorrhage, a potentially fatal complication. Left untreated or unnoticed, HELLP syndrome can result in brain damage, cardiac arrest, and even comas and death in the mother as well as the unborn baby.

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HELLP syndrome is usually accompanied by preeclampsia, which causes significant rises in blood pressure and poses its own serious risks to mothers and babies. Obstetricians can perform a series of clinical tests to diagnose preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome early on in a woman's pregnancy. A physician might conduct a physical examination to check for abdominal pain, screen blood and urine, and perform an ultrasound to monitor the baby's development.

If warning signs and symptoms for HELLP syndrome are present, the obstetrician might prescribe medication for high blood pressure and liver enzyme regulation. Such drugs only provide mild relief from symptoms, and there is no reliable cure for the disorder. The only means of halting all symptoms is to induce labor, which is often done even if it means that the baby will be born premature. Many doctors believe that babies and mothers have a better chance at surviving without permanent damage if the baby is born right away and placed in critical care.

With plenty of rest for mothers and babies after labor, most individuals are able to completely recover. Blood pressure, enzymes, and platelets usually return to their pre-pregnancy levels within one to three weeks. Most new mothers and babies are able to live happily and healthily, though it is important for moms to understand that they are at an increased risk of developing complications in future pregnancies.

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