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HELLP Syndrome Guidance & Bringing a Misdiagnosis Claim

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Pregnant mother consulting a doctor
Experiencing a delay in diagnosis or misdiagnosis of HELLP syndrome can be a devastating ordeal for expectant mothers. Here we explore key information about this syndrome, why it is often confused with other conditions, and when there is a basis to bring a claim for medical malpractice.

What is HELLP syndrome?

HELLP syndrome is a severe complication of pregnancy, characterised by haemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet count. It typically occurs in the third trimester and can present with symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, headache, and swelling. The exact cause is unknown, but it is often associated with pre-eclampsia. Prompt diagnosis and treatment, which may involve early delivery of the baby, are crucial to prevent serious complications for both the mother and baby.

What are the symptoms of HELLP syndrome?

Symptoms include severe headaches, nausea or vomiting, upper right abdominal pain or tenderness, fatigue or malaise, swelling, especially in the hands and face, blurred vision or other visual disturbances, high blood pressure, and protein in the urine. These symptoms often resemble those of pre-eclampsia and can develop suddenly.

How is HELLP related to pre-eclampsia?

HELLP syndrome is considered a variant or complication of pre-eclampsia, a condition characterised by high blood pressure and often protein in the urine during pregnancy. Both conditions share similar symptoms and can occur in the same timeframe, typically in the third trimester. While pre-eclampsia primarily affects blood pressure and kidney function, HELLP syndrome specifically involves haemolysis (the breaking down of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and a low platelet count, indicating liver damage and blood clotting issues. The presence of HELLP syndrome can indicate a more severe progression of pre-eclampsia and requires immediate medical intervention to protect the health of both mother and baby.

Which condition is more dangerous?

HELLP syndrome is generally considered more dangerous than pre-eclampsia due to its rapid onset and potential for severe complications. While both conditions are serious and require immediate medical attention, HELLP syndrome involves additional complications which can lead to liver damage, bleeding issues, and increased risk of maternal and foetal mortality. The complexity and severity of HELLP syndrome often necessitate more urgent and aggressive treatment, including early delivery, to prevent life-threatening consequences.

Can the symptoms of HELLP be confused with other conditions?

Yes. Common symptoms like severe headache, nausea, vomiting, upper right abdominal pain, and general malaise can mimic conditions such as gastroenteritis, gallbladder disease, hepatitis, or even the flu. Additionally, symptoms like high blood pressure and protein in the urine overlap with those of pre-eclampsia. This overlap and the nonspecific presentation can delay accurate diagnosis and treatment, making awareness and prompt medical evaluation crucial for pregnant women experiencing these symptoms.

What harm can be caused by failure to diagnose HELLP?

Failure to diagnose this syndrome can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening complications for both the mother and the baby. For the mother, untreated HELLP syndrome can cause liver rupture, bleeding problems due to the low platelet count, kidney failure, stroke, pulmonary edema, and in severe cases, death. For the baby, the condition can result in premature birth, growth restriction, placental abruption, and stillbirth. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are critical to prevent these serious outcomes and ensure the best possible prognosis for both mother and child.

When is it possible to bring a medical negligence claim in relation to HELLP syndrome?

A medical negligence claim may be possible if there is evidence that healthcare professionals failed to meet the standard of care, resulting in harm. This could include:

  • Delayed Diagnosis – Failure to diagnose HELLP syndrome promptly despite clear symptoms.
  • Misdiagnosis – Incorrectly diagnosing the condition as something else, leading to inappropriate treatment.
  • Inadequate Monitoring – Not conducting necessary tests or monitoring during pregnancy, especially in high-risk patients.
  • Substandard Treatment – Providing care that falls below the accepted medical standards, such as not administering necessary medications or delaying delivery.

To bring a claim, you generally need to prove that the healthcare provider’s negligence directly caused harm. Consulting a solicitor specialising in medical negligence is essential to evaluate the case, gather evidence, and navigate the legal process. Timing is crucial, as there are statutes of limitations for filing such claims.

What are the time limits for bringing a claim?

The time limit for bringing a medical negligence claim is two years from the date of the injury or from the date you became aware, or should reasonably have become aware, of the injury. This is known as the “date of knowledge.” However, there are exceptions: for minors, the two-year limitation period does not start until their 18th birthday, giving them until their 20th birthday to bring a claim. If the injured party is mentally incapacitated, the time limit may be extended until the incapacity ends.

Can I claim compensation for both myself and my child?

Yes, you can claim compensation for both yourself and your child if medical negligence related to HELLP syndrome caused harm. For yourself, you can seek compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, loss of earnings, and future care needs. For your child, you can claim for their pain and suffering, medical expenses, and any long-term developmental impact.

Have you experienced a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of HELLP syndrome?

If you have suffered severe complications due to medical care failings during your pregnancy, you may have the grounds to bring a medical malpractice claim against the healthcare providers who treated you. At McCarthy + Co Solicitors LLP, we have a long history of bringing successful negligence claims for patients across Ireland. Contact us for a free initial consultation with a qualified medical negligence solicitor by completing our confidential online consultation form.

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is a seasoned solicitor with almost 20 years of experience, specialises in personal injury and medical negligence claims, focusing particularly on high-value compensation cases. His extensive litigation experience spans Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court levels. John's practice involves a diverse range of cases, from personal injury and wrongful death to property damage, defective products, professional negligence and judicial reviews.


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