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Symptoms and diagnosis of HELLP syndrome

Although it's not common, some pregnant women in Texas may suffer from a condition known as HELLP syndrome. It's important that HELLP is recognized because it can have a maternal mortality rate of 1.1% and an infant mortality rate of 10% to 60%.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of HELLP resemble a number of other conditions, and the symptoms may not appear until the woman has had the condition for several days. Signs include high blood pressure, severe headaches, edema and visual disturbances. Some of these are simply normal occurrences in pregnancy, so they may be missed. Worsening nausea and vomiting and abdominal pain are also symptoms. HELLP is associated with preeclampsia, but its symptoms may develop prior to any preeclampsia symptoms. It might also be confused with gallbladder disease and hepatitis among other conditions. To prevent misdiagnosis, physicians are encouraged to run tests for liver function and a variety of other blood tests to determine whether HELLP is the cause of these symptoms when they occur in the third trimester.

After 34 weeks, HELLP is usually treated with delivery. Prior to that time, bed rest, careful monitoring and other treatments may help. It is not known what causes HELLP, but it can lead to lung failure in the mother or infant, placental abruption and other complications.

If undiagnosed or poorly managed HELLP results in birth injuries, parents may want to consult an attorney to discuss whether medical malpractice has occurred. Courts recognize that some conditions may be difficult to diagnose, so they look at whether a patient received a reasonable standard of medical care. A court might consider it medical malpractice if a doctor does not test for HELLP even though a woman develops the applicable symptoms in the third trimester.

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