This year, Sunday, May 15th has been designated as Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, less than 3 percent of pregnant women suffer from the condition but those that do should be monitored carefully.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is an uncommon complication of pregnancy associated with severe, persistent nausea and vomiting. The majority of pregnant women experience some type of morning sickness during pregnancy, but hyperemesis gravidarum is an extreme condition associated with dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and nutritional deficiencies.
Although the exact cause of hyperemesis gravidarum is not known, it is suspected the condition could be related to the rapid rise of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and estrogen hormones in pregnancy. Women are more likely to develop hyperemesis gravidarum if they had the condition in previous pregnancies; are overweight; are pregnant with multiples; or have a history of certain health conditions, including migraines and asthma.
Symptoms of HG include vomiting more than 3 to 4 times daily, vomiting that leads to weight loss of 5% of pre-pregnancy weight, and signs of dehydration. Before diagnosing hyperemesis gravidarum, obstetricians must first rule out other possible causes for the symptoms.
If it is determined you have hyperemesis gravidarum, your OBGYN will design a treatment regimen based on the severity of the condition. Symptoms often occur early in pregnancy and may improve around weeks 14-20. However, in some cases, symptoms persist throughout the entire pregnancy and serious cases may require hospitalization. Treatment is aimed at preventing and controlling vomiting and includes:
- Motion sickness pressure wristbands
- Bland diet with protein rich foods and small frequent meals
- Dry crackers before getting out of bed in the morning
- Ginger capsules, vitamin B6 and/or medications to prevent vomiting (antiemetics)
- Intravenous fluids to treat dehydration when vomiting persists
- Total parenteral nutrition (TPN) in rare cases where vomiting is so severe maternal and fetal nutritional status is threatened
Severe vomiting in hyperemesis gravidarum can cause babies to be born prematurely, small for gestational age or with low birth weight. Management of HG sometimes requires obstetricians to employ a range of treatment options including diet and lifestyle changes, medications, IV fluids and nutritional support for the health of both mother and baby.