Mother and Baby

What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum and how do I treat it?

Section: Morning sickness

Some women may experience extreme vomiting in pregnancy, that is completely incapacitating, which is known as Hyperememis Gravidarum (HG).

A well-known sufferer of the condition is Kate Middleton who was hospitalised during her first pregnancy and subsequently forced to cancel her first solo royal tour during her second pregnancy due to the severity of nausea. As such, it’s important not to confuse HG with regular morning sickness, so much so that Doctor Jennifer Ashton, Chief Women's Health Correspondent for ABC News, stated: “This is morning sickness like a hurricane is a little bit of rain.”

We discussed HG with a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist to give you a clear and concise explanation of what the condition involves and when to consult a GP during your pregnancy.

What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

It’s a bit of a mouthful, but Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a violent pregnancy sickness that can cause vomiting up to 50 times a day, in the worst cases. It’s not very common, affecting around 1 in 100 women, but it can be crippling and even damaging to your mental health.

‘Some pregnant women experience severe nausea and vomiting,’ says Dr Dib Datta, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. ‘This condition needs specialist treatment as it can become quite severe if not treated.’

You’re more likely to develop HG if you’re having a multiple birth, if your mum or sister had the condition while they were pregnant or if you’re prone to migraines and travel sickness.

You’re more likely to develop HG if you’re having a multiple birth, if your mum or sister had the condition while they were pregnant or if you’re prone to migraines and travel sickness.

Now read: Can you have Hyperemesis Gravidarum without vomiting?

The condition itself won’t harm your child, but the effects of dehydration and being unable to keep down food can affect the healthy growth of a baby. However, if you do have HG, treatment is available and you can live a functioning life whilst pregnant if you seek help as soon as you feel the symptoms.

How does Hyperemesis Gravidarum occur?

It is thought that this acute form of nausea is caused by a rise in hormone levels but the definitive causes are still unknown. Equally, if like Kate, you suffered with it in a previous pregnancy, your chances of having it again in a subsequent pregnancy shoot up to 15 per cent. 

‘While morning sickness usually clears up during weeks 12 to 14 of pregnancy, the symptoms of HG usually appear between four to six weeks of pregnancy,’ explains Dr Datta.

She continues,‘It may get really bad between 9 to 13 weeks but often women find the sickness lessens between 14 to 20 weeks.’

Unfortunately, around 10 to 20 per cent of women with HG experience the symptoms throughout their entire pregnancy, but by the time your baby is born the condition should have completely cleared up. If it hasn’t, consult your GP as it could indicate a separate problem, such as an ulcer.

What are the symptoms?

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Food Aversions
  • Weight loss of 5% or more of pre-pregnancy weight
  • Decrease in urination
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Jaundice
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Secondary anxiety/depression

How is Hyperemesis Gravidarum treated?

There are three ways that HG is usually treated – through fluids, tube feeding and medication. The type of treatment that you will undergo will depend on how severely ill you are and it can be a matter of trial and error to see what works for you.

‘Intravenous fluids (IV) may be suggested,’ says Dr Datta. ‘These will restore hydration, electrolytes, vitamins and nutrients. Tube feeding may also be an option if you’re struggling to keep any food down. A tube will be passed through the nose and down to the stomach to restore the nutrients you need to your body.’

There are 3 types of medication often suggested – metoclopramide, antihistamines and antireflux medications. But, it can be hard to swallow pills if you’re already feeling queasy, so other treatments may be suggested. The anti-sickness medication offered has a great track record and should not harm your baby.

Many women have also reported that homeopathic methods help significantly along with simple home remedies to help manage your waves of nausea. Stay hydrated by drinking water or sucking on ice cubes and keep note of what smells make your feel sick and avoid them – if necessary, just stick to eating cold foods. Some women also find ginger to be a great nausea fighter.

Don’t let your GP ignore your request for help if you think you are being sick more often than is ‘normal’ for a pregnant woman.

Fortunately, mothers have reported that the medical attitude has positively altered due to the publicity associated with Kate Middleton’s pregnancy and how much she has personally suffered from the condition. Due to this increased awareness, you are much more likely to be taken seriously and given relief for your nausea. 

Have you suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

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