Severe, sometimes life-threatening complications can arise from HELLP syndrome, which involves the blood and the liver. This rare condition occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. Preeclampsia and eclampsia are often linked to HELLP syndrome, but its causes are otherwise unclear. The components of "HELLP" are:
H: hemolysis, which is the destruction of red blood cells that are responsible for taking oxygen from the lungs to other areas of the body
EL: elevated levels of liver enzymes in the blood
LP: low platelet count, which can cause serious bleeding because platelets assist with clotting
HELLP syndrome may cause pain in the chest due to bleeding in the liver. While it can be resolved effectively if it is promptly diagnosed and treated, a woman may suffer serious harm if they are not treated promptly. Potential consequences of HELLP syndrome include placental abruption, kidney or liver failure, hemorrhages, and pulmonary edema, which involves fluid in the lungs. A woman even may lose her life if the condition goes untreated completely.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome
While some women experience symptoms of HELLP syndrome before developing the condition, others develop HELLP syndrome with little or no warning. Some symptoms resemble symptoms of preeclampsia. For example, a woman may experience nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, and sudden weight gain and swelling. Other symptoms include chest pain and severe fatigue. In unusual cases, a woman may find that her blood does not clot properly or even suffer from seizures or uncontrollable shaking, known as convulsions.
A doctor will conduct a physical exam to determine whether a woman suffers from HELLP syndrome. They may look for signs such as high blood pressure, chest pain, swelling in the legs, or an enlarged liver. In addition, a doctor may use a CT scan to check for bleeding in the liver. Blood tests can identify the EL and LP components of HELLP syndrome, involving liver enzymes and platelets.
Checking on the Fetus
Ultrasound imaging can show the condition of the fetus, while a non-stress test can monitor fetal heart rate in response to fetal movements and identify any problems with oxygen supply.
Treatment for HELLP Syndrome
A woman suffering from HELLP syndrome might receive blood pressure medication and anti-seizure drugs. If they have sustained substantial blood loss, they might receive a blood transfusion. Unfortunately, HELLP syndrome may require premature birth before the mother and the child suffer further harm from the development of this condition.
If a doctor determines that a mother should give birth ahead of schedule, they may induce labor or arrange for a C-section. To assist with fetal lung development, a doctor may prescribe corticosteroid drugs. This can help reduce the risk of complications with a premature birth.
Compensation for Medical Errors Involving HELLP Syndrome
Unfortunately, doctors often confuse HELLP syndrome with other conditions that manifest similar symptoms. They may misdiagnose HELLP syndrome as viral flu, hepatitis, blood or autoimmune disorders, or gallbladder problems. Doctors are human and can make mistakes, but they should not make mistakes that fall below the standard of care for their profession. If a doctor deviates from the practices of a competent doctor in their field, they may be liable for medical malpractice. This can allow a patient to recover economic and non-economic damages.
Economic vs. Non-Economic Damages
Economic damages cover items such as past, present, and future medical costs, while non-economic damages cover subjective harm like pain and suffering.
A patient should not hesitate to consult an attorney if they suspect that a misdiagnosis or improper treatment of HELLP syndrome caused their harm. A medical malpractice claim must be filed within the statute of limitations in their state. Otherwise, a patient likely cannot recover damages even if malpractice occurred. Most birth injury lawyers offer a free consultation, at which they can discuss whether a patient has a strong claim, as well as the damages that may be available. These cases tend to be fiercely contested, and they involve greater nuances than most ordinary personal injury cases. Thus, a patient almost always should retain legal representation rather than bringing their claim on their own.