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Hyperemesis gravidarum

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

What is Hyperemesis gravidarum?

Hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, is an extremely uncommon condition that is much more severe than normal   pregnancy sickness.

It can be so severe that a woman becomes dehydrated, loses weight and may have to be admitted to hospital and put on a saline drip under specialist care.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, also known as NVP.

What are the symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum?

The symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum go far beyond the discomfort of morning sickness and require urgent medical attention. They include:

  • Prolonged and severe nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration caused by the vomiting
  • Ketosis - raised levels of toxic acidic chemicals in the blood called ketones
  • Losing weight due to inability to keep food down
  • Low blood pressure, known as hypotension, especially on standing up
  • Risk of DVT - deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in a vein) - due to dehydration

In terms of the quality of life, HG can affect a woman’s work, home life and family life due to frequent vomiting  - or trying to vomit because there’s nothing in the stomach so she can’t vomit, and retches instead.

It’s been described by some women as like having your stomach turned inside out, it’s so severe. And this lasts for weeks and weeks and weeks. It can last throughout the whole pregnancy for some very unfortunate women.

What other consequences are there for mother and baby?

A paper presented at a conference at the University of Warwick in 2010 suggested that women who have had hyperemesis gravidarum carry on breast feeding for a shorter period of time.

Women suffering from the condition may also be in need of emotional support. The Pregnancy Support Trust suggests joining a local support network or online community. It also says some women may benefit from therapies such as hypnosis from a medical hypnotherapist after a checking with their midwife.

It also suggests preparing an 'HG survival kit' to include food and snacks a woman is able to eat as well as bags and wipes for unexpected vomiting.

Are reports of women aborting their babies because of Hyperemesis Gravidarum true?

There have been reports of women diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum requesting  a termination because the pregnancy is too distressing. .

Is there any risk that hyperemesis gravidarum can cause a woman to lose her baby?

The NHS says hyperemesis gravidarum is unlikely to cause harm to an unborn baby. However, left untreated, weight loss during pregnancy may lead to a baby having a low birth weight.

How many pregnant women are affected by hyperemesis gravidarum?

The Pregnancy Support Trust says hyperemesis gravidarum affects around one in 100 pregnant women with morning sickness.

Is the condition taken seriously by doctors and the rest of the medical profession?

Help for women who suffer from morning sickness during pregnancy varies across the country, according to a medical conference held at the  of the organisers of a national conference looking at how the medical profession can improve treatment available to pregnant women.

Is there anything that pregnant women can do themselves to alleviate the symptoms?

Experts suggest trying to move less, avoiding tasks such as cleaning the house may help, as any movement may exacerbate the feeling of nausea.

Rest and relaxation may be recommended as well as avoiding some smells, including food or cooking odours.

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Reviewed on August 12, 2012

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