Hyperemesis-Is Your Pregnancy Nausea More Than Morning Sickness?

You’ve found out the big news that you’re expecting, and you’re looking forward to watching your baby grow big and strong. On the other hand, you might not be looking forward to another common part of pregnancy—morning sickness—especially if it gets severe. But what if the extreme nausea and vomiting you’re experiencing is a little more than the usual? Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you could actually be facing hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) instead.

According to Dr. Marlena Fejzo, an associate faculty researcher at UCLA and USC, an estimated 100,000 cases of hyperemesis occur each year. The true total might be well above that number, though, because some women go undiagnosed or use home treatment methods.

While you might be tempted to dismiss this problem as a severe form of morning sickness, more health experts are recognizing it as a separate issue. Patients with hyperemesis gravidarum often end up in the hospital, needing medical help to get adequate food and hydration.

Such was the case during the royal Kate Middleton’s first pregnancy, and she has suffered through HG in her second and now third pregnancies as well. While you certainly wouldn’t wish hyperemesis on anyone, Kate Middleton’s struggle with it is putting the condition in the spotlight.  

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What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

The problem that many doctors have in diagnosing HG is that it doesn’t have a strict medical definition. Some doctors will view the sickness as hyperemesis if a woman loses more than 5 percent of her body weight. Others may not use this marker but may still diagnose it if the patient is lacking vital hydration and nutrients.

How can you tell if you’re suffering from HG? The symptoms include regular nausea and vomiting, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, significant weight loss and the inability to keep food down.

You may also experience headaches, severe food aversions, anxiety or depression. In addition, your condition will likely keep you from normal, everyday activities and will not subside in certain stages of pregnancy.

While many of these symptoms are similar to those of morning sickness, it’s important to distinguish between the two. Hyperemesis can be dangerous if not dealt with properly, and many patients need hospitalization in order to maintain proper nutrition.

In fact, hyperemesis causes over 150,000 emergency room visits every year. Thankfully, if you’re suffering with HG, close monitoring and supportive medical care can keep both you and your baby safe.


While some groups, such as the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation (HER), are promoting and supporting new research for this condition, experts still do not know its exact cause. Interestingly, one study published in BMJ in 2010 did find a correlation between family history and hyperemesis. Of the more than 1200 patients in this study, 28 percent had mothers who had also dealt with the condition.

Also, 19 percent had sisters who had experienced hyperemesis. This research suggests that genetics may play a role here, but the direct cause is still unknown. Instead, you’ll need to focus on treating the symptoms and staying healthy for a safe delivery.  

For mild forms of hyperemesis, you may only need to concentrate on rest and nutrition at home. You might have to avoid foods or smells that trigger nausea or vomiting and eat small meals.

Your doctor may recommend some bed rest as well. Since “mild” HG can easily escalate into malnutrition and dehydration, you should talk through any changes or concerns with your doctor regularly.

In many cases, however, you will need treatment under close medical supervision. Once in the hospital, you may receive an IV and possibly a feeding tube to ensure adequate nutrition. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-reflux or nausea medications.

No matter your specific situation, you should find strong support while dealing with HG. Not only will you need caring doctors who will take your condition seriously, but you will also need encouragement from loved ones or a support group. The bed rest and embarrassing symptoms might keep you isolated and worried, making proactive support a necessity here.

While some people might dismiss the severity of hyperemesis gravidarum, this condition is serious. Let your doctor know right away if you’re experiencing severe nausea or vomiting, especially if you are unable to keep food or water down. While you may not find a cure for your discouraging symptoms, you can get support from others who have dealt with the same problem. The important thing with HG is keeping yourself and your baby healthy for a safe delivery.