Hyperemesis Gravida – the low-down

Severe and relentless nausea, vomiting and weight-loss in pregnancy is likely to be Hyperemesis Gravida, not just morning sickness

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Beyond morning sickness – Hyperemesis Gravida

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Morning sickness affects around 70% of pregnant women, and can range from a mild discomfort to a serious disruption. But for a small percentage of women vomiting and nausea can be so severe that it’s impossible to keep anything down at all, and significant weight loss can result – a condition known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum.

Hyperemesis affects around three in every thousand pregnant women and is described by doctors as relentless vomiting and nausea which leads to a weight loss of over 5% of body weight. Like morning sickness, hyperemesis can vary greatly in degree and duration, but for some women it may mean substantial time off work, a huge disruption to normal life and frequent vomiting even up until birth. In extreme cases women may even need to throw up after swallowing their own saliva.

Treatment

Unlike simple morning sickness, Hyperemesis Gravidarum may require treatment as untreated it can lead to dehydration and malnourishment. Treatment usually involves special drugs to suppress vomiting, anti-emetics, but a hospital stay and feeding and rehydration through an intravenous drip may also be necessary in some cases. As most of the potential treatments haven’t been proven safe (nor unsafe) for use in pregnancy, your doctor will need to balance the severity of your symptoms against potential risk to the fetus in deciding what treatment you can have.

Unfortunately some doctors may write off a case of hyperemesis as severe morning sickness, as it’s not an easy condition to diagnose, so if you suspect you’re suffering from the condition it’s important when you see your doctor that you make it clear how often you are sick and how much weight you have lost, and that you suspect you are suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.

Useful contacts

Blooming Awful – British Hyperemesis Association
Website: www.hyperemesis.org.uk/

Hyperemesis Foundation
Website: www.hyperemesis.org/ 

Family life

More so that morning sickness, hyperemesis can have a significant impact on the whole family. While with morning sickness you may be unable to cook hot meals or need a short time off work, with hyperemesis you may be bed-ridden for weeks, unable to work for long periods, too ill to cope with domestic tasks and need far more support from your family and friends.

For partners it’s not only a case of shouldering a far bigger share of the domestic duties and responsibilities, but many men also find it very draining to witness their partners going through so much and may feel frustrated if they feel they can do nothing to help.

The condition can take a toll on the whole family, both emotionally, practically and financially, so it’s important that you get as much help and support as you can.

Coping

It’s very important that you seek medical treatment for hyperemesis, but there are a few tricks that may help ease the hyperemesis and help you get by.

  • Massage – Massage is well-known for helping to relieve symptoms of nausea and an easy way for your partner to offer some relief. Even a simple foot massage can be great for relieving tension and nausea.
  • Rest – Trying to do too much will only increase your stress levels and make your sickness worse, so make sure that you rest when you need to and rally family and friends to help out with other children and domestic tasks.
  • Separate fluids and solids – You’ll have more chance of keeping food down if you keep the hour around eating fluid-free. You’ll need to make up the fluid intake between food though.
  • Vitamin B6- There’s evidence that this vitamin can help combat nausea and sickness in pregnancy, so try taking a supplement if you’re able to keep one down.
  • Ginger – As with regular morning sickness, some women may find that ginger products – tea, biscuits, ginger ale – may help alleviate some of their symptoms.
  • Fizzy drinks – You may find you need to get energy through sugary drinks, lemonade, ginger ale, cola and lucozade, which you may also find easier to keep down than other fluids.
  • Herbal teas – Ginger, peppermint and fennel may all help to settle your stomach and ease digestion.
  • Dry and plain foods – Starting the day with a couple of crackers or a bit of toast, even before you get out of bed, may help to stave off the nausea.
  • Little and often – Try to eat small amounts of food at more frequent intervals, eat whatever you are able to keep down and if you can’t keep any solids down at all then try milkshakes, nutrition drinks and diet shakes.
  • Sweets – If you’re suffering from excessive saliva then it may help to suck on a boiled sweet.

Future pregnancies

All pregnancies are different, and if you’ve suffered hyperemsis once, then it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll suffer it again. However, the chances are quite high that you will, although your experience of the condition may be very different the next time. Whatever happens, it makes sense to assume that you may well suffer hyperemesis again and to prepare yourself mentally and physically for that possibility.

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If you have suffered hyperemesis then it’s important that you give your body plenty of time to recover before you fall pregnant again.

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