Sep 1, 1999 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

HELLP Syndrome and Your Pregnancy

Am Fam Physician. 1999 Sep 1;60(3):839.

See related article on HELLP syndrome.

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a rare but serious illness in pregnancy. This illness can start quickly, most often in the last three months of pregnancy (the “third trimester”). It can also start soon after you have your baby.

Women with HELLP syndrome may have bleeding problems, liver problems and blood pressure problems that can hurt both the mother and the baby.

Who gets HELLP syndrome?

We don't know the cause of HELLP syndrome. We also don't know who will get it. Any pregnant woman can get this illness.

Most women have blood pressure problems before they get HELLP syndrome. But you can get HELLP syndrome even if your blood pressure is normal.

You're more likely to get HELLP syndrome if you're white and over 25 years of age. You are also more likely to get it if you have had children before or if you had a problem with a pregnancy in the past.

How can I tell if I have HELLP syndrome?

If you have HELLP syndrome, you may feel tired. You may have pain in the upper right part of your belly. You may have bad headaches, and nausea or vomiting. You may have swelling, especially in your face and hands. Rarely, you may notice bleeding from your gums or other places.

Because many healthy pregnant women also have these symptoms late in pregnancy, it may be hard to know for sure if you have HELLP syndrome. Your doctor may order blood tests if you have these symptoms or if your blood pressure is high.

How is HELLP syndrome treated?

The main treatment for HELLP is to deliver your baby. This may have to be done before your due date. Most women with this illness start to get better a couple of days after their babies are born.

If you aren't too sick, your doctor may wait a few days before delivering your baby.

You may have to take a steroid. This medicine helps both you and your baby.

If you have bleeding, you may need blood transfusions or other treatments in the hospital.

Some women with HELLP syndrome get very sick. Rarely, this illness is fatal.

What can I do to prevent HELLP syndrome?

There is no way to prevent this illness. The best thing you can do is see your doctor regularly and tell your doctor about your symptoms at every prenatal visit.

If you have HELLP syndrome during one pregnancy, you can have it again during your next pregnancy. The illness is usually less severe the second time.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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