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What is HELLP syndrome?

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HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening condition that occurs when pregnant women have elevated levels of liver enzymes combined with a low platelet count, explains the Preeclampsia Foundation. Doctors typically view the syndrome, which usually appears late in the woman's pregnancy, as a form of preeclampsia.

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HELLP syndrome is fatal in as many as 25 percent of expectant mothers who develop it, so it is important for pregnant women to familiarize themselves with the warning signs so they can seek prompt medical attention if they begin experiencing symptoms, states the Preeclampsia Foundation. The symptoms may include a headache, vision changes, nausea, vomiting or swelling. Tenderness in the chest or abdomen, as well as shoulder pain or pain in the upper right area of the abdomen, are other symptoms women sometimes experience. Patients experiencing the syndrome often have protein in their urine and high blood pressure, and it is especially difficult for doctors to confirm a diagnosis when these two factors are not present.

The most common causes of serious illness or death in women with HELLP syndrome are strokes and liver ruptures, according to the Preeclampsia Foundation. When a diagnosis is made in a timely manner, it is usually possible to prevent these medical emergencies from occurring. In most cases, the treatment for the syndrome is to induce delivery of the baby.

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