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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

HELLP syndrome

Other Names for this Disease
  • Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Lowered Platelets
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.

Your Question

My mother had HELLP syndrome. Is this condition genetic? Am I at high risk of getting HELLP syndrome when I get pregnant?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a rare but serious illness in pregnancy. This condition can start quickly, most often in the last 3 months of pregnancy (the third trimester). It can also start soon after the baby is delivered. HELLP stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzyme levels and a Low Platelet count. These problems are often found in women with this syndrome. These problems, along with the high blood pressure commonly found in association with HELLP syndrome, can lead to problems for both the mother and the baby.[1] Many cases of HELLP syndrome are associated with  preeclampsia or eclampsia.[2] The exact cause of HELLP syndrome remains unknown, making it difficult to determine which women will be affected.[1] Treatment may involve medication and/or delivery of the baby.[2]   
Last updated: 1/26/2010

What causes HELLP syndrome?

Doctors are still unclear on what exactly causes HELLP syndrome. Although it is more common in women who have preeclampsia or pregnancy induced hypertension (high blood pressure), there are still a number of women who get it without previously showing signs of preeclampsia.[3]

The following is a list of factors that are believed to increase the risk of a woman developing HELLP syndrome:[3]

  • Previous pregnancy with HELLP Syndrome (19-27% chance of recurrence in each pregnancy)
  • Preeclampsia or pregnancy induced hypertension
  • Women over the age of 25
  • Being caucasian
  • Multiparous (given birth two or more times)   
Last updated: 1/26/2010

Is HELLP syndrome genetic?

Preclampsia and related syndromes, such as HELLP syndrome, have a strong genetic component, although the nature, origin and recurrence rate of the genetic risks involved are not necessarily the same for each form of pregnancy-induced hypertension or population.[4] While most cases are sporadic, a small number have exhibited inheritance which could be either autosomal dominant or recessive.[5]
Last updated: 1/26/2010

If my mother had HELLP syndrome, am I at a high risk to develop it during my pregnancy?

While genetic factors are believed to be involved in the development of HELLP syndrome, their exact role is not fully understood. In addition, there are many other potential risk factors involved. Individuals interested in learning about their specific risksshould discuss their family history and other concerns with an OB/GYN or a genetics professional.
Last updated: 7/20/2011

How can I find a genetics professional in my area?

Genetics clinics are a source of information for people and families with a genetic condition. More information about genetic consultations is available from Genetics Home Reference. To find a genetics clinic, we recommend that you contact your primary healthcare provider for a referral.

The following online resources can help you find a genetics professional in your community:
  • The National Society of Genetic Counselors provides a database of genetics counseling services, searchable by location, name, institution, type of practice, or specialty.
  • The University of Kansas Medical Center provides a list of links to genetic centers and clinics, associations, and university genetics departments.
  • The American College of Medical Genetics has a Genetics Clinics Database for individuals who wish to locate a U.S. genetics center.
  • The American Society of Human Genetics is a professional organization of researchers and clinical geneticists. The ASHG maintains a database of its members, some of whom live outside of the United States. Visit the ASHG site if you are interested in obtaining a list of the geneticists in your country, though some may be researchers only and may not offer medical care.
Last updated: 2/6/2015

What can I do to help prevent HELLP syndrome?

Although there is no known way to prevent HELLP syndrome, it is important for all pregnant women to start prenatal care early and continue it through the pregnancy. This allows the health care provider to find and treat conditions such as HELLP syndrome early.[2]
Last updated: 1/26/2010

Other Names for this Disease
  • Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Lowered Platelets
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.