HELLP syndrome is a pregnancy complication that can be dangerous for the mother and baby. The cause of HELLP syndrome is unknown but it is usually associated with preeclampsia or eclampsia. Pregnant women with signs and symptoms of HELLP syndrome should be closely monitored and may have to have immediate delivery of the baby to give the mother and child the best chance at recovery.
What is HELLP Syndrome?
HELLP stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, and Low Platelet count. HELLP syndrome is a health condition during pregnancy that can put the mother and baby at risk of injury. It usually occurs with other pregnancy complications, like pre-eclampsia. The most common outcome of HELLP syndrome is premature delivery and low birth rate for babies who have to be delivered before full-term.
Hemolysis in HELLP
Hemolysis is the rupturing of red blood cells, which releases the cytoplasm into the surrounding blood plasma. There are a number of medical conditions that can cause hemolysis, including HELLP. Hemolysis is usually detected with blood tests. Hemolysis can increase the risk of infection because of the way it impairs the immune system.
Elevated Liver Enzymes in HELLP
Elevated liver enzymes can be a sign of liver damage. When the liver is damaged, the liver cells become weaker and enzymes can leak out into the blood. There are a number of medical conditions that can cause elevated liver enzymes, including hepatitis, drug interactions, alcoholic liver disease, and HELLP syndrome. Elevated liver enzymes are usually detected with a blood test looking for levels of alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST).
Low Platelet Count in HELLP
Low blood platelet count, or thrombocytopenia, is a drop in the normal levels of blood platelets. There are a number of reasons why an individual's blood platelets may drop, including dehydration, Lyme disease, leukemia, sepsis, or HELLP. Platelet counts are usually evaluated with blood tests.
How HELLP Syndrome Develops in Pregnant Women
HELLP syndrome is a serious condition that affects the blood and liver. Hemolysis can impair the ability to carry oxygen to the tissue and organs, including carrying oxygen to the baby through the umbilical cord. Oxygen supply is important to the functioning and development of the brain. A decrease in oxygen can cause developmental delays and permanent brain damage.
A low platelet count can impair the body's ability to clot and increase the risk of serious bleeding or hemorrhage. Bleeding can also put the mother at risk of brain injury, hemorrhagic shock, and death. If the mother is suffering heavy bleeding, it can also affect the baby, causing brain damage and possibly be fatal.
Pregnant women who develop preeclampsia or eclampsia are at increased risk of HELLP. Other risk factors include pregnant women who have had HELLP before, are older than 25 years old, and obesity. Signs and symptoms of HELLP vary and are often mistaken for other conditions. Common signs and symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain or pain in the belly
- High blood pressure
- Fatigue or malaise
- Nausea or vomiting
- Edema or swelling
HELLP syndrome is relatively rare, affecting about 1 in 1,000 pregnancies. It most commonly develops in the third trimester but can occur at any time, including after birth of the baby. With proper care and treatment, most mothers survive HELLP syndrome with few complications. However, without proper care, HELLP can cause serious health complications and put the baby at risk.
Risks of HELLP Syndrome to the Mother and Baby
HELLP syndrome can put the mother and baby at risk of injury. Risks of HELLP to the mother generally involve injuries and damage associated with organ failure and hemorrhage. HELLP is rarely fatal for the mother. The risks of death are much greater for the baby. The most common risk to the baby is premature birth, with low birth weights and the child being small for their gestational age.
Treating and Monitoring HELLP Syndrome
Treatment generally involves delivery of the baby, even at an early stage of development. The symptoms of HELLP begin to clear after delivery of the placenta. Delivery can prevent further injury to the mother but early delivery may still be a risk for the baby. Emergency delivery can involve inducing labor or more often, through C-section.
Medications may be used to lower the mother's blood pressure before delivery. If necessary, the mother may also receive blood transfusions for bleeding problems.
HELLP Syndrome and Medical Malpractice Claims
HELLP syndrome can present a medical emergency and may require immediate treatment and delivery of the baby if the mother or the baby are in distress or the mother begins to suffer multiple organ failure. Blood tests, urine tests, and other diagnostic tests can help the doctors and medical staff diagnose the condition and evaluate the risks to the mother and baby. Failure to properly diagnose, treat, or monitor the mother and baby could cause serious injury or death.
If a doctor fails to provide the standard level of care, through misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, improper treatment, or failure to monitor, then the doctor's negligence may be a cause of injury to the mother and/or baby. The injury victims may have a claim for medical malpractice due to the healthcare professional's errors.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim After a HELLP Syndrome Injury
If a family loses their child during pregnancy or labor, filing a lawsuit may be the last thing on their mind. However, holding a negligent doctor accountable for their actions can help other families avoid the tragedy of unnecessary fetal mortality. A medical malpractice claim can help a family recover damages for their loss, including medical expenses, loss of support, and pain and suffering. Talk to your medical malpractice attorney about your options.
HELLP Syndrome Attorneys
At Gilman & Bedigian, our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients and their families recover millions of dollars in compensation related to birth injuries caused by medical error. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.