Thursday, 4 September 2014

Guest Post // Raising Awareness Of HELLP

I had to give birth to my beautiful son Hugo 16 weeks early because of severe HELLP syndrome and severe pre-eclampsia. This rare pregnancy complication nearly claimed my life, and took the life of my precious baby, Hugo.

I had never heard of HELLP before my diagnosis, and my family and friends had not heard of it either.

While nothing more could have been done to help Hugo, who fought for life for 35 days, HELLP is so serious I am raising awareness of it in his memory.

After all, it is impossible to know the symptoms of a condition you don’t even know exists.

The letters in the name HELLP stand for each part of the condition:

* ‘H’ is for haemolysis – this is where the red blood cells in the blood break down

* ‘EL’ is for elevated liver enzymes (proteins) – a high number of enzymes in the liver is a sign of liver damage

* ‘LP’ is for low platelet count – platelets are cells in the blood that help it to clot.

The syndrome is usually a complication of pre-eclampsia. Like pre-eclampsia, it can happen only in pregnancy. It is most likely to occur immediately after the baby is delivered, but can appear any time after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and in rare cases before 20 weeks.

HELLP syndrome and preeclampsia can and does kill mothers and babies. The only way to treat both conditions is to deliver the baby as soon as possible, no matter what stage of pregnancy the mum-to-be is at.

The symptoms of HELLP syndrome are outlined below.

* Heartburn/indigestion with pain after eating

* Swelling, and sudden weight gain

* Shoulder pain or pain when breathing deeply

* Malaise, or a feeling that something ‘isn’t right’

* Pain under the right side of the ribs

* Headache and changes in vision

* Bleeding

Other signs of pre-eclampsia include high blood pressure and protein in the urine. This is why it is vital pregnant women attend their routine community midwife appointments, as these are always checked.

I started developing symptoms at 23 weeks. I had what I thought was heartburn (it was actually my liver starting to fail), I was putting on weight (it was actually excess fluid caused by my failing kidneys) and just felt generally rotten. I’d put it all down to normal pregnancy symptoms.

The only symptom I couldn’t really explain away was the breathlessness. I was sufficiently concerned about it to look it up on Google – preeclampsia was one suggestion. I dismissed it because I didn’t have the ‘classic’ symptoms of a headache and flashing lights – and besides, I was so early in my pregnancy. I thought it only happened in later pregnancy. How wrong I was.

I never actually developed a headache or visual disturbances.

As I’ve described with my own experience, many of the symptoms in the list above are easy to confuse with common pregnancy discomforts. I would like to balance raising awareness with not frightening pregnant women, or giving them more to worry about as for most women, they will be genuine pregnancy aches.

Therefore, the most important message is:

If you are at all worried about anything during pregnancy, or if something ‘just doesn’t feel right’, call your midwife, or GP. Your midwife or GP shouldn’t mind, and if they do – insist.

All it takes are a few simple checks (that could include taking your blood pressure, dipping your urine sample and checking your baby’s heartbeat). This is most likely to help put your mind at rest, and you can go home and look forward to your baby’s arrival.

If, in the rare event you do have something like pre-eclampsia or HELLP, the earlier it is diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated. This means you will get better quicker, and it could help your baby too.

Fortunately, I had a routine 24 week community midwife appointment just a few days after the symptoms appeared. I had made a mental note to mention the discomforts I had recently developed, and especially to ask for a stronger heartburn medicine as regular over-the-counter supplies were doing nothing for me.

My midwife was vigilant, picked up on my high blood pressure and protein in my urine, and combined with the other symptoms I’d complained of sent me straight to hospital.

Hugo had to be delivered to prevent my organs failing – I would have died, and Hugo would have had no chance at life.

Pre-eclampsia affects about 5% of pregnancies, and severe cases afflict about 2%. A smaller percentage will develop HELLP, and the number of women who will develop pre-eclampsia and HELLP at 24 weeks as I did, is even more remote.

There are some women who are considered to be a higher risk, such as those who are aged over 35, previous high blood pressure, first pregnancy, preeclampsia in a previous pregnancy, being overweight and having certain pre-existing conditions, such as lupus.

I had three of these risks – I am aged over 35, it was my first pregnancy, and I am overweight. My blood pressure before – and for 22 weeks of my pregnancy – was on the low side of normal. HELLP syndrome struck very suddenly.

For all these risk groups however, preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome do not discriminate. No one really knows why certain women get it, and it’s perfectly possible to fall victim without being in one of these risk groups.

There is no way to screen for or prevent preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. The best thing to do is be aware of the signs and symptoms and seek help from your midwife or doctor if you are worried – and make sure you attend all your antenatal appointments.

This post was written by Leigh and you can find her blog by clicking here :)

1 comment :

  1. A very informative post. So important to raise awareness of pregnancy complications like this. So sad though for the loss of beautiful Hugo - have been following some of Leigh's posts and seen her beautiful photos. Leigh, you are an inspiration and a wonderful mummy xx


please no spamming these will be deleted, only leave relevant comments, you are welcome to leave your blog link at the end of a comment - thank you :)