Hyperemesis gravidarum: when morning sickness turns serious

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Hyperemesis gravidarum morning sickness

There’s morning sickness, and then there’s hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) – pregnancy illness so severe that it usually means a hospital stay.

About one in one thousand pregnant women get it, including the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton who suffered it with all three pregnancies. It causes constant nausea and vomiting, weight loss and dehydration. And the knock-on effect can be extremely serious for both mum and growing baby. While vomiting during pregnancy is very common, HG is something very different to morning sickness.

Here’s what you should know about hyperemesis gravidarum.

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), it is severe morning sickness which is recognised as excessive or severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Women with HG often find it difficult to keep anything down and may need to be admitted to hospital, and placed on an IV drip so their body and their baby can get the nutrients they need. It’s a constant battle with nausea or vomiting.

It generally hits around the four to seven-week mark, and usually starts to ease at around week 15, with most cases finishing before the 20th week. However, some women with hyperemesis gravidarum continue to have it right through their pregnancy. It’s important to note that if your symptoms start after the 12th week, it could be something else like a urinary tract infection or thyroid disease and is always best to get checked out by a doctor.

Generally, the symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum include:

  • Not being able to keep down any food or drink without vomiting
  • Constant, severe nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of more than five per cent of pre-pregnancy body weight

Who gets it?

hyperemesis gravidarum morning sickness explanined

While any pregnant woman can get hyperemesis gravidarum, you are more at risk if you are:

  • Are expecting your first baby
  • Were overweight at the start of your pregnancy
  • Are below the age of 25
  • Are prone to travel sickness and migraines
  • Get nausea when using oestrogen-based hormonal contraceptives
  • Are expecting a girl
  • Are having twins or triplets
  • Your sister or mum had it in their pregnancies

What can you do?

You need to make sure that you seek medical attention if you are unable to keep food or liquid down, as without treatment your baby could have a lower birth weight (however, this is rare).

Makes sure you eat whatever you can keep down, and try sucking ice cubes. You can also try eating cold foods, and steer clear of any smells that make you feel sick. Small frequent meals, rather than three large one may also help.

Take care of yourself because hyperemesis gravidarum can have a severe impact on your mental health. Speak to your healthcare provider and make sure you have plenty of support to help with day-to-day activities, and that you’re getting enough sleep.

If you’re not urinating frequently, or your urine is very dark, you need to be checked for dehydration. Your midwife or doctor may send you for blood tests or an ultrasound to check there isn’t something else causing your illness.

If you have any of the following symptoms, see your health care provider:

  • Blood in your vomit
  • Pain when urinating
  • Stomach pain or a fever
  • Feeling dizzy, faint, confused or disoriented
  • Severe weakness

Don’t ignore your symptoms, or non-stop vomiting.

If you’re suffering from morning sickness, take a look at our guide on how to survive the symptoms.

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