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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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HELLP syndrome

Other Names for this Disease
  • Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Lowered Platelets
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Your Question

I had preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome with what I believe to be my first and only pregnancy. I believe my sister had eclampsia with her second pregnancy. I also believe that our mother may have had this condition but little was known at the time of my birth. Both my sister and I now have a daughter. Given our history, does this mean that they are at a higher risk for having these problems? My daughter is just learning of these things and is concerned that she will have the same complications as we did, so I told her I would look into it for her.

Our Answer

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

How does family history contribute to the risk of preeclampsia, eclampsia and HELLP syndrome?

There are no specific genes known to cause an individual to have preeclampsia, eclampsia or HELLP syndrome. However, having a family history of one or more of these conditions may increase the risk for an individual to develop one or more of these conditions.

While there is limited information about familial recurrence of HELLP syndrome specifically, it is known that HELLP syndrome is more common in individuals who have preeclampsia or pregnancy induced hypertension.[1] There is evidence that in studied populations severe preeclampsia (which is a risk factor for HELLP syndrome) is associated with having a family history of hypertension and/or hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol and triglycerides), and that a family history of hypertensive disorders in general increases the risk of eclampsia and HELLP syndrome.[2][3]

There have been a few examples of  preeclampsia or eclampsia being present in 3- and 4-generations of families, and in one study (involving only an Icelandic population), the investigators suggested possible autosomal recessive or autosomal dominant inheritance among some of those families. Another study by Esplin et al. in 2001 found that both men and women who were the product of a pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia were significantly more likely to have a child who was the product of a pregnancy complicated by preeclampsia. Authors of a 2004 study by Cnattingius et al. concluded that genetic factors account for more than half of the risk of preeclampsia, and that maternal genes contribute more than fetal genes.[4]

Individuals interested in learning about their personal risk to develop one or more of these conditions should speak 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 individuals and families regarding genetic conditions, treatment, inheritance, and genetic risks to other family members. 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:
Last updated: 10/18/2013