Pregnancy hyperemesis

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Feeling or being sick is normal during pregnancy (aka, morning sickness or pregnancy sickness), especially up until weeks 16 - 20.

What’s not normal is throwing up many times a day, having very bad nausea, being unable to keep food and drink down and becoming severely dehydrated throughout your pregnancy.

This excessive vomiting and nausea is known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) – a condition that often requires hospital treatment.

How many women does pregnancy Hyperemesis Gravidarum affect a year?

Although it’s a commonly underreported condition, it is thought that around 1-3 women in every 100 may experience it.1

What is the difference between ‘morning sickness’ and Hyperemesis of pregnancy?

Hyperemesis is very much about a spectrum of sickness and is nothing like regular ‘morning sickness’ – a very outdated term, may we add.

Women with hyperemesis will experience symptoms much worse than the usual vomiting and nausea experienced in normal pregnancy sickness. HG can also linger – unlike common pregnancy sickness, it may not get better by weeks 16 to 20.2

Why the term ‘morning sickness’ can trivialise pregnancy sickness

If we were to take ‘morning sickness’ at face value, we would only expect pregnant women to feel ill when they wake up, right? Well, what if that nausea continues throughout the whole day and even slightly peaks in the evening?

Although it is more likely that women will throw up in the morning, several studies have found that symptoms of nausea after noon - and in some severe cases throughout the day – is highly likely.

So why do we still cause it morning sickness, when this term has been proven to be less-than accurate and can be seen as quite trivialising?

The University of Warwick carried out a study on Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy (NVP) and the problems with using the term ‘morning sickness’. Roger Gadsby, lead author of the article and clinical professor from the University of Warwick, said:3 “The present study further reinforces the idea that calling NVP just ‘morning sickness’ is inaccurate, simplistic and unhelpful.”

What are the symptoms of Hyperemesis of pregnancy?

Hyperemesis symptoms are much worse than normal pregnancy sickness and vomiting, signs, and symptoms include:4,5
  • Severe and prolonged nausea and vomiting,
  • Dehydration – signs of which include, feeling thirsty, tired, lightheaded, dizzy, not weeing much, and having dark yellow and strong-smelling wee
  • Weight loss
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) when standing up
  • Extremely sensitive to smells, and produce too much saliva

It’s important to note that some women will have vomitless HG, which can make them feel like they are not ‘really’ sick and consequently shouldn’t complain. When in fact, HG without vomiting can be just as bad as prolonged nausea and can cause them to stop eating and drinking.

How to avoid getting dehydrated with Hyperemesis Gravidarum

There is always a risk of becoming severely dehydrated with HG, with all the vomiting, nausea and not being able to keep food or fluids down.

Here are a few things you can do to try and avoid getting dehydrated like:6
  • If you can’t stomach a drink, try freezing half a bottle of mineral water and then using fridge cold water to top it up, keeping the water at a freezing cold temperature for hours
  • Swap your tap water for bottled mineral water – it may be more palatable

However, sometimes nothing will seem to help; if you get too dehydrated, then please seek medical advice.

Where to find support for Hyperemesis in pregnancy

Your GP

Your first call should always be your GP, who should have the knowledge and resource to help you with HG. But don’t let them shrug you off or make you believe it is ‘just morning sickness’, you can always ask to see another doctor.

Pregnancy Sickness support

In the UK, one of the best support networks for this condition is Pregnancy Sickness Support. They are a registered UK charity aiming to improve treatment, care and support for women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy.

Whether you suffer from HG yourself, or care for someone that does, visit their website. You can find expert advice on everything from Hyperemesis gravidarum treatment to ‘survival tips’, as well as ongoing research and testimonials from women who have experienced it.

There is also a documentary called The Sick Film produced by Charlotte Howden, who experienced HG herself during her first pregnancy. Her mission was, and still is, to raise awareness for HG sufferers, get the message ‘out there’ and invoke change.

Last updated: 29 October 2020

Related Topics

Pregnancy