Nearly all women experience some form of nausea and vomiting during the first trimester of their pregnancy. Sometimes, a specific smell sets it off while other times, you just feel nauseous for no reason at all. It usually subsides in the second trimester. However, for some women, nausea and vomiting are severe and last well beyond the first-trimester causing weight loss and electrolyte imbalance. If this sounds like you, you might have hyperemesis gravidarum.
So, how different is hyperemesis gravidarum from morning sickness? Vomiting follows nausea only in the case of morning sickness. However, in hyperemesis gravidarum, nausea is almost always paired with severe vomiting. While you may vomit some because of morning sickness, it rarely leads to dehydration. This is not the case in hyperemesis gravidarum. Not only does it cause severe dehydration, it also doesn’t allow you to retain food in your stomach. Although it typically starts around weeks 4 to 6 of your pregnancy, it may peak at weeks 9 to 13. It should resolve between weeks 14 and 20 but up to 20% of women might need continued care well beyond that.
If these symptoms sound like what you’re experiencing, it’s important you talk to your healthcare provider and get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Do not self-prescribe or take any medications on your own.
What Causes Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Although it’s suspected that the rising levels of hormones (especially something called the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone) are the reason for hyperemesis gravidarum, the exact cause still remains a mystery.
What Are The Symptoms?
On top of the symptoms mentioned above, you could experience any of these as well:
- Aversion to food
- Decrease in peeing/dark-colored urine
- Extreme fatigue
- Increased salivation
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Resultant anxiety or depression
- Weight loss of more than 5% of your pre-pregnancy weight
Who Is At Risk?
You might experience hyperemesis gravidarum if:
- You have a predisposition to migraines or motion sickness
- It’s in your genes (e.g., if your mom or sister had it)
- This is your first baby
- You’re carrying multiples
- You had morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum during a previous pregnancy
Keep in mind that having any of these traits only means you could have hyperemesis gravidarum. It doesn’t mean you will definitely experience the condition during your pregnancy.
Preventing Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do on your end to prevent this condition. You didn’t “do” this to yourself either so don’t feel guilty about it. Just see your healthcare provider to get the best treatment possible for yourself.
Treating Hyperemesis Gravidarum
The good news is your baby can develop perfectly healthily even though you are struggling to keep your dinner down. More good news, your hyperemesis gravidarum will disappear altogether once you give birth. However, not eating or drinking enough water means you won’t be getting enough nutrients. If you get too dehydrated or malnourished, it can affect your baby’s weight or development. In mild cases, your healthcare provider might recommend acupressure, eating six to eight small meals a day instead of three regular ones, changing your diet to reduce nausea (usually minimizing or avoiding fatty and spicy food), and incorporating more ginger in your diet. In severe cases, your healthcare provider might follow any of these courses of treatment to help you get nutrients:
- IV fluids to rebalance your electrolytes, hydration, nutrients and vitamin levels. Sometimes you might have to be hospitalized for a few days for a longer course of IV.
- Medications or vitamins such as B6, metoclopramide, antihistamines, or reflux medications
- Putting you on tube feeding through your nose or surgically through your abdomen
At the end of the day, you’re not dealing with hyperemesis gravidarum alone. Even Kate Middleton went through it for all three of her pregnancies. In fact, it’s estimated that at least 60,000 cases of morning sickness are severe enough to be classified as this condition. It is believed that this number could be much larger as a result of home pregnancies, under-reporting, or not reporting at all altogether. If your nausea feels a little too much to handle, don’t tell yourself it’s normal and don’t try to tough your way through it! Talk to your healthcare provider.