What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

For those with the condition hyperemesis gravidarum morning sickness turns into all-day, non-stop sickness that can last the full nine months of pregnancy

Morning sickness hits the majority of pregnant women, and for most it’s no big deal: feeling a bit queasy at times, maybe actually vomiting once or twice a day. Usually it eases up after three months.

But for others, including the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, morning sickness turns into all-day, non-stop sickness that can last the full nine months of pregnancy. The condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum, and it’s not a problem to be taken lightly: because they can’t keep down enough foods or liquids, expectant mothers with this illness can lose significant amounts of weight and become dehydrated. They may miscarry or give birth prematurely. Rare cases have even been fatal.

Who is more likely to experience this condition? It is not common, affecting only between one and three percent of all pregnant women. A 2006 study in Nova Scotia found these risk factors:

  • Pre-existing hyperthyroid disorders, diabetes, and gastro-intestinal disorders
  • History of psychiatric illness
  • Asthma
  • Younger maternal age
  • Multiple pregnancy

They also found that women pregnant with baby girls were more likely to have hyperemesis gravidarum than those pregnant with a boy.

Other researchers have suggested that being overweight, being pregnant for the first time, and having had hyperemesis gravidarum during a previous pregnancy also increase the risk. 

How do you know if you have this – or if yours is just “ordinary morning sickness?”

 

Some signs of hyperemesis:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Ketones in your urine
  • Vomiting that lasts all day
  • Bouts of severe vomiting for part of every day

If you’re not sure, consult with your doctor or midwife. Even if it is not hyperemesis, there are medications that can safely reduce the vomiting, keeping you and your expected baby healthier. Some women may need to be hospitalized temporarily to be treated for dehydration or to receive nutrients intravenously.

With prompt treatment, most women with this condition will find the vomiting eases up and they’ll go on to have healthy babies. (Let’s hope that’s the case for Kate and Will!) 

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