This entry is a companion piece to HELLP Raise Awareness.
The blog describes my own experiences with the symptoms of HELLP. I hope it is useful to elaborate on how the symptoms can manifest themselves.
It is in no way intended to be medical advice. If you, or anyone else are worried about symptoms during pregnancy, please call your midwife or GP straight away.
Heartburn/indigestion with pain after eating. The week before my diagnosis, I woke up in the middle of the night with a pain in my chest that I assumed was severe heartburn. I had read that heartburn was very common in pregnancy, and could be expected to turn up at around the 23/24 week mark, so thought I was right on schedule.
A pharmacist recommended Gaviscon for my symptoms, but it did absolutely nothing to take away my pain or discomfort.
Every time I ate, I felt very full and uncomfortable. The week before my diagnosis, Martin and I were away on holiday at a 4 star spa hotel. I was very embarrassed to be burping during meals, and made a point of getting up and rubbing my bump to show fellow diners I was pregnant, in an attempt to excuse my terrible manners.
Sleeping was difficult, as the ‘heartburn’ got worse at night. I tried to sleep propped on pillows, to no avail. Sleep was eventually gained by taking paracetamol to numb the pain. I had been reluctant to take any medication throughout my pregnancy, despite being reassured by several health professionals that paracetamol was perfectly safe, so my resorting to taking it demonstrates the extent of pain and discomfort I was in.
The night before the diagnosis, I was in such pain and discomfort a terrible thought went through my head: “I need to get this baby out of me.” I instantly hated myself for that thought, but in retrospect it was probably my body trying to tell me it was struggling.
The ‘heartburn’ turned out to be a sign of increasing liver enzyme levels – the liver can fill up with fluid, causing pain and feelings of sickness.
Swelling, and sudden weight gain. Having a curvy figure, buying jeans and trousers had long been a trial, but I was very pleased with how I looked in the pair of maternity jeans I’d treated myself to. Around the time the ‘heartburn’ appeared, I noticed it was getting more difficult to get the jeans on, and my legs looked like fat sausages forced into them.
In addition, as we were on holiday, Martin had been taking photos of me. I was horrified at my face in them – I looked huge, and had developed a massive double chin. I’d expected to gain a little bit of weight during pregnancy, so blamed that. My hands and feet were normal, so I had no reason to suspect pre-eclampsia.
These ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos illustrate the extent of my weight gain.
In fact, the weight gain was actually water retention – my kidneys were in trouble. I was catheterised very soon after admission to hospital, and my fluid input and output was strictly monitored.
Shoulder pain or pain when breathing deeply. A couple of days after the ‘heartburn’ appeared, I started to experience trouble catching my breath. I love taking long walks, and had continued to do so while pregnant, but even a short walk had become exhausting due to not being able to breathe properly. I blamed my increased weight (see ‘swelling’, above) on this problem.
The day before my diagnosis, I had experienced shoulder tip pain on my left side. My natural sleeping position is on my tummy, which I hadn’t been able to do with my growing bump. So, I blamed my shoulder pain on an uncomfortable sleeping position, complicated by the ‘heartburn’ sleeping issues.
This pain was likely to be due to my high blood pressure, and to severe anaemia, a sign of the haemolysis. At that time, my haemoglobin (iron) levels were 7. The normal range is between 14 and 20.
Malaise. This is described as a feeling of ‘not feeling quite right’. I had been so looking forward to our mini-break: spending some quality time with Martin, relaxing, stroking my bump and chatting to my baby, swimming and having a couple of spa treatments. We were going to be so chilled when we got home. However, when I got home I felt very out of sorts. I am normally a positive person but felt so low, anxious and teary.
Plans to see a friend I hadn’t seen for ages were cancelled because I felt so rubbish. A long-awaited trip to go shopping for our baby’s pram – I was so excited about buying it – was postponed because I just couldn’t be bothered. I felt cross with myself for feeling so low: after all, I was enjoying a normal pregnancy with a long-awaited, much-wanted baby; I had a supportive partner who was just as thrilled about our impending arrival as I was, and we had just been on a lovely holiday. I put these symptoms down to crazy pregnant lady hormones.
I have since discovered that feeling low and anxious and a ‘feeling of doom’ can be a symptom of high blood pressure and, therefore, pre-eclampsia. Previously, my blood pressure had been on the low side of normal, including during my pregnancy until that point. In hospital, my blood pressure was so high the doctors were worried about me having brain seizures, so I was put on intravenous magnesium sulphate to prevent that occurring.
Pain under the right side of the ribs. I had been experienced this symptom for a few days, and put it down to the heartburn. Having never experienced heartburn before, I didn’t know any different. The night before delivering Hugo, the pain became unbearable and I can remember begging the hospital midwife for something stronger than Gaviscon, and for pain relief.
The pain was from liver distention.
Bleeding – Normal platelet levels for adults should be within the 200 range. At the time I delivered Hugo, my platelets were 50. While it is impossible to use this as a symptom that is helpful for others, my low platelet count meant I lost three pints of blood during the Caesarean section. I received a two-unit blood transfusion a week later, when it became apparent my body wasn’t coping with the blood loss.
Headache and changes in vision. Along with swelling, these are the classic symptoms of pre-eclampsia. However I didn’t have a bad headache. I experienced mild changes in vision only after delivering Hugo, and some of that could be blamed on dizziness due the blood loss.
I will be writing more about my experiences in hospital in future entries.