HELLP syndrome is a rare but potentially dangerous condition that affects pregnant women. It tends to occur after childbirth or later in the pregnancy, and the condition is closely associated with preeclampsia. It was first named in 1982 by the doctor who described the condition, Dr. Louis Weinstein.
The name HELLP is an acronym taken from the main characteristics of the condition. These are hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet levels. Treatment and management for this condition are available, but it should be found as soon as possible because the condition is potentially dangerous to both the mother and the child.
The cause of HELLP syndrome is unknown; some consider it a form of preeclampsia, while others propose that it is a different entity.
Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs after 20 weeks’ gestation until six weeks postpartum. Clinically, it presents as high blood pressure (according to specific BP criteria) and proteinuria or abnormal quantities of protein in the urine. This may or may not be associated with edema or the swelling of the upper and lower extremities.
The theory that HELLP syndrome is a variant of preeclampsia, suggests that they may have a common etiology. In preeclampsia, structural reorganization (remodeling) of the placental blood vessels results in inadequate blood flow to the placental tissues. Consequently, the placenta releases several growth factors that cause placental dysfunction and damage the cells that line the blood vessels (endothelial cells) of multiple organs. This cascade of events can result in maternal hypertension, proteinuria (due to kidney damage), and increased activation of the coagulation cascade (i.e. platelet activation and aggregation).