Importance of correctly interpreting magnetic resonance imaging to diagnose posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome associated with HELLP syndrome: a case report

BMC Med Imaging. 2017 May 25;17(1):35. doi: 10.1186/s12880-017-0208-6.


Background: Severe haemolysis, elevated liver enzyme levels, and low platelet count (HELLP) syndrome in pregnancy are possible underlying trigger factors for posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) shows diffuse signal abnormalities involving the subcortical white matter in the parieto-occipital lobes. Although the diagnosis of RPES was clearly established by the distinctive reversibility of clinical and radiological abnormalities, it is difficult to distinguish from differential diagnosis. Thus, it is important to correctly interpret MRI.

Case presentation: We describe a case of HELLP syndrome with PRES. A 38-year-old pregnant woman was admitted to our hospital as an emergency case with a complaint of upper abdominal pain and headache at 29 weeks of pregnancy and the development of HELLP syndrome. An emergency caesarean section was immediately performed. After the operation, the patient received intravenous corticosteroids, and her blood pressure was controlled. Thereafter, she showed an altered mental status. MRI showed hypersignal intense lesions in the cortical and subcortical white matter in the occipital lobes, basal ganglia and callosal splenium in both the fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) sequence and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC), but these lesions were not recognized in diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI). These images were suggestive of PRES. The patient was kept in the hospital and received the appropriate treatment, after which the patient's level of consciousness improved and all laboratory tests and imaging examinations returned normal.

Conclusion: The MRI findings were useful for the prompt diagnosis of PRES, characterized by hypersignals in FLAIR and ADC, but not in DWI. Additionally, there was an "atypical" MRI appearance of basal ganglial and callosal splenial involvement in this case, which may mistakenly lead clinicians to diagnose other aetiologies than typical PRES. It is considered that vasogenic oedema is the main pathology of PRES according to the MRI image findings. MRI is the gold standard for diagnosing PRES because it can provide information about cerebral involvement earlier than CT; further, it can be a useful tool in the differential diagnosis. This technique facilitated the prompt diagnosis and treatment of the said patient, ultimately resulting in a good outcome.

Keywords: HELLP syndrome; Magnetic resonance imaging; Posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Management
  • Female
  • HELLP Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pregnancy


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones