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Last updated 7 years ago

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What Is It?Preeclampsia is a disorder that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period and affects both the mother and the unborn baby. Affecting at least 5-8% of all pregnancies, it is a rapidly progressive condition characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. Swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches and changes in vision are important symptoms; however, some women with rapidly advancing disease report few symptoms.Typically, preeclampsia occurs after 20 weeks gestation (in the late 2nd or 3rd trimesters or middle to late pregnancy) and up to six weeks postpartum (after delivery), though in rare cases it can occur earlier than 20 weeks. Proper prenatal care is essential to diagnose and manage preeclampsia. Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH) and toxemia are outdated terms for preeclampsia. HELLP syndrome and eclampsia (seizures) are other variants of preeclampsia.

Signs and Symptoms of PreeclampsiaExcess protein in your urine (proteinuria) or additional signs of kidney problemsSevere headachesChanges in vision, including temporary loss of vision, blurred vision or light sensitivityUpper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right sideNausea or vomitingDecreased urine outputDecreased levels of platelets in your blood (thrombocytopenia)Impaired liver functionShortness of breath, caused by fluid in your lungsSudden weight gain and swelling (edema) — particularly in your face and hands — often accompanies preeclampsia. But these things also occur in many normal pregnancies, so they're not considered reliable signs of preeclampsia.

What is HELLP Syndrome?HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Both conditions usually occur during the later stages of pregnancy, or sometimes after childbirth.HELLP syndrome was named by Dr. Louis Weinstein in 1982 after its characteristics:H (hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells)EL (elevated liver enzymes)LP (low platelet count)HELLP syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, especially when high blood pressure and protein in the urine aren't present. Its symptoms are sometimes mistaken for gastritis, flu, acute hepatitis, gall bladder disease, or other conditions.The mortality rate of HELLP syndrome has been reported to be as high as 25%. That's why it's critical for expecting mothers to be aware of the condition and its symptoms so they can receive early diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of HELLP SyndromeThe physical symptoms of HELLP Syndrome may seem at first like preeclampsia. Pregnant women developing HELLP syndrome have reported experiencing one or more of these symptoms:HeadacheNausea/vomiting/indigestion with pain after eatingAbdominal or chest tenderness and upper right upper side pain (from liver distention)Shoulder pain or pain when breathing deeplyBleedingChanges in visionSwellingSigns to look for include:High blood pressureProtein in the urineThe most common reasons for mothers to become critically ill or die are liver rupture or stroke (cerebral edema or cerebral hemorrhage). These can usually be prevented when caught in time. If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, please see a healthcare provider immediately.

Treatment of HELLP SyndromeMost often, the definitive treatment for women with HELLP Syndrome is the delivery of their baby. During pregnancy, many women suffering from HELLP syndrome require a transfusion of some form of blood product (red cells, platelets, plasma). Corticosteroids can be used in early pregnancy to help the baby's lungs mature. Some healthcare providers may also use certain steroids to improve the mother's outcome, as well.


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