What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

If you follow the British royal family, you may recall that Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, experienced hyperemesis gravidarum during all three of her pregnancies. In fact, during her first pregnancy the problem was so severe that she was briefly hospitalized! Reading this news a few years back, you may not have paid much attention. If your pregnant partner is suddenly throwing up more than seems normal, though, you may be getting nervous. Is it morning sickness, or could it be hyperemesis gravidarum?

It’s important to note that nausea is very common during pregnancy, and typically harmless. It’s uncomfortable, to be sure, but fortunately, it usually resolves by the end of the first trimester, although some people experience it for up to 20 weeks. Nausea during the first trimester, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, is known as morning sickness. It doesn’t usually cause dehydration, though it can leave a woman fatigued, with appetite loss, and it can cause her to have trouble with her normal daily activities.

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is not nearly as common. In fact, it only happens in .5 to 2 percent of pregnancies. With this condition, the nausea won’t go away, and the vomiting is so severe that the person can’t keep any foods or fluids down and becomes dehydrated. These symptoms can be debilitating, typically start in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, and can cause fatigue that lasts for weeks or months. It’s a major concern not just because of the dehydration, but because it prevents proper weight gain during pregnancy. A woman with hyperemesis gravidarum can lose more than 5 percent of her body weight because of the nausea and vomiting.

A woman is more at risk for HG if she has a family history of the condition, is pregnant for the first time, or is carrying multiples. Trophoblastic disease, a condition that occurs when there’s abnormal cell growth in the uterus, can also cause HG. There’s no way to prevent hyperemesis gravidarum, but it can be treated. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, treatments vary. Mild cases might be treated with natural nausea treatment, dietary changes, rest, or antacids. In some cases, acupressure or homeopathic treatments can be helpful, but it’s important for anyone with HG to talk to a doctor and refrain from self-medicating. More serious cases of HG require hospitalization. In the hospital, treatments include intravenous (IV) fluids, tube feeding, and medication. If you have any concerns during pregnancy, calling your doctor for advice is always a good choice to promote a healthy pregnancy.

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