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More than morning sickness: What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

hyperemesis gravidarumMost pregnant women experience some morning sickness (or, rather, "all-day sickness", as it doesn't only strike in the morning!). But what if you have morning sickness so severe, it's life-threatening? If your nausea and vomiting are so bad, you can't get out of bed in the morning, or eat anything, or you start losing weight? Hyperemesis gravidarum has been in the news because of Kate Middleton's high-profile pregnancies, all of which have been punctuated by this debilitating condition. Hyperemesis gravidarum is more than morning sickness, and here's what you need to know.

More than morning sickness: Hyperemesis gravidarum

Often called "HG" for short, hyperemesis gravidarum is a pregnancy complication which includes the following:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting, several times a day
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Feeling faint and weak
  • Being unable to carry out your regular activities

While many pregnant women can experience bad morning sickness, what makes hyperemesis gravidarum different is its persistence. It doesn't last for just a day or a week -- it lasts for several weeks, and sometimes for the whole pregnancy. It's estimated to affect up to 2% of pregnant women, so it's sufficiently rare, but in historical times, it was a cause of death for pregnant mothers. Now, with appropriate treatment, HG is manageable. That doesn't mean it's pleasant -- mums with HG may need to be in hospital on a drip to replace lost fluids, and may need to take medication to help manage the symptoms.

What causes HG?

There's no known cause for hyperemesis gravidarum, although mums-to-be who are pregnant for the first time, mums carrying twins or multiples, mums who are obese, or mums who have a prior family history of HG are more likely to suffer from it. HG is usually diagnosed through the symptoms: More than three episodes of vomiting per day, a weight loss of 5% or three kilos, and the presence of ketones in the urine.

How can you manage hyperemesis gravidarum?

If your morning sickness is so severe you're not coping, or you're starting to lose weight, or you think you may have hyperemesis gravidarum, it is critical that you seek help sooner rather than later. Don't just suffer in silence, thinking this is something you just have to deal with on your own. Seek medical help from your midwife, GP, or specialist as soon as possible, so you can begin treatment straightaway.

Advice from mums who have been there

We asked our Facebook community for suggestions to help mums-to-be experiencing HG. Here is some of their advice:

  • "One day at a time, one hour at a time. Seek help at the first signs of dehydration, don't let it get worse. It just makes the sickness worse. Frozen power aide and cucumber water was my go-to. But eat stuff that wont taste horrible comimg back up." ~ Shannon
  • "The only thing that got me through it and out of hospital was ondansetron wafers (not the tablets as I'd throw them up too lol)." ~ Megan
  • "Do not be afraid to ask for help or be prescribed nausea pills from your midwife. They are safe for baby. They don't help 100%, but sure make things more bearable! Also, don't let yourself get too dehydrated. Sip water by the teaspoon with an electrolyte sachet added to it. Most of all, keep in mind that you will get a beautiful baby at the end of this horrible time! Labour sure was a breeze after having hyperemisis." ~ Emma
  • "Eat things that are easy to bring back up, like porridge or Weet-bix. If you start feeling dehydrated, go to hospital for fluids. And sleep as much as you can through the pregnancy. Nine months of hell is worth it at the end. Hang in there." ~ Hannah
  • "Definitely talk about it, ask for help, let people know you're not coping (it's okay not to be okay)." ~ Trish 
  • "Do whatever you have to do to get through. Just eat and drink whatever you can, even if it's not healthy. The suffering does end, but it can seem endless. There are others who understand it's not just morning sickness." ~ Sam
  • "Get fluids when you need it. Visit a homeopath, take medication when offered. Ondansatron come in wafers that melt in your mouth! Suck on sour lollies, smell peppermint if you can stand the smell, and remember to keep telling yourself it will be worth it in the end, and count off each day!" ~ Sandy
  • "Ondansetron was my lifesaver. Helped me keep most things down. I just took it easy, didn't push my self, housework got done when I had the energy, but took breaks between each thing as even just vacuuming the lounge exhausted me. Find the safe foods that you can manage to keep down and stick with it. For me was Mountain Dew and crackers/bland foods." ~ Kirsty
  • "Rest lots and don't be afraid to accept help. Cutting dairy out of my diet completely made a difference to me, but to be honest, the only thing that stopped it was giving birth." ~ Rachel

Check out Breastmates' great range of maternity aids for some morning sickness remedies that may help.

Image courtesy of Sharon at Bloom Photography (bloomphotography.co.nz).

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