The risks, signs and symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum.
Kate Middleton’s pregnancy announcement and hospitalization in early December gave pregnant women a new vocabulary term and a new fear: hyperemesis gravidarum.
The condition is severe, chronic nausea and vomiting that often lasts the entire pregnancy, according to Michele Carney, an OB/GYN at Edward Hospital in Naperville, Ill., near Chicago. It is uncommon, but women affected can have a very long nine months.
Morning sickness symptoms are certainly unpleasant, but for most women, they aren’t dangerous or debilitating, Carney said. Small, frequent, protein-rich meals along with Vitamin B6 can help stave off the nausea, and women who feel sick can alleviate their symptoms with ginger tea or even Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid.
“The majority of women can handle it on their own,” she said. “And most women do get better as the pregnancy progresses.”
The good news is, morning sickness is generally a sign of a strong placenta, which means a strong pregnancy and likely a healthy baby, Carney said. In most cases, the baby’s weight or health won’t be affected negatively by morning sickness.
Women who are vomiting frequently may be given a prescription for an anti-nausea medication, and Carney encourages those who suffer from acute dehydration to go to the emergency room to get rehydrated.
When is it severe?
Middleton made headlines when she was hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum. Women who suffer from it may lose up to 5 percent of their body weight during pregnancy.
Treatment for hyperemesis gravidarum may include using a pump, something like an insulin pump used by diabetic patients, only with anti-nausea medication inside. In very severe cases, women may have to be fed through a tube.
“I’ve only seen two or three of those in my career,” Carney said.
Hyperemesis gravidarum also has mental consequences. Women who feel sick for months on end get depressed and tend to feel guilty for not feeling better, she said. Women who got pregnant through infertility treatments tend to suffer those symptoms the worst, as the very thing they’d been so excited to have is now making them feel terrible, she said.
“It takes a toll on those women,” she said.
Husbands and other family members often don’t realize how bad the symptoms are and may be unsupportive, Carney said. Post-partum depression is also common among women who have been affected by hyperemesis gravidarum.
There’s nothing to do medically to alleviate the depression, but women who are having problems may be referred to psychologists and support groups.
Ask your doctor
Women typically se their doctors around th six-week mark in thei pregnancies, which i about the time morning sickness begins, Carney said. Women who are worried about symptom they’ve been feeling should not hesitate to ask their doctors about preventing and alleviating morning sickness.