IT HAS been described as a severe form of morning sickness, but hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) can be considerably more dangerous.
The condition comes on in the first or second month and is characterised by continuous vomiting. Until fairly recently, women who suffered from it were often advised to have an abortion.
It is thought to be caused by a reaction to elevated levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG. There may also be a genetic element, although the exact cause is unknown.
Consultant obstetrician Daghni Rajasingam said: “In very simple terms, hyperemesis means vomiting a lot and gravidarum means in pregnancy.
“The diagnosis is given when women cannot keep food or fluid down because she has severe vomiting. Women who are vomiting pretty much constantly, that cannot keep any nutrients down, need to be admitted to hospital.”
The condition can lead to low blood pressure, a fast heart rate and confusion. It is sometimes known to lead to kidney problems because of the build-up of toxins in the blood and urine. Women who suffer from the condition have reported becoming depressed during pregnancy.
In the most serious cases, women continue to lose weight throughout pregnancy. They can lose as much as 10 per cent of their body weight – and if they struggle to gain weight, the condition is more likely to lead to smaller babies, who may be born prematurely.
While nausea and vomiting in pregnancy effects up to half of expectant mothers, only a small percentage of women have HG. The likelihood of developing the condition is believed to be between 0.3 and 2 per cent.
Women are usually admitted to hospital for a few days and allowed to return home when they are managing to keep fluids down.
In some cases, the condition improves after intravenous feeding – however, sometimes the symptoms can last for the whole pregnancy.
One of the difficulties of managing HG is that many anti-nausea drugs are not advised during pregnancy. The usual treatment involves intravenous feeding, to prevent dehydration and make up for any vitamin deficiency.
‘I was sick every day for 9 months – I nearly died’
WHEN comedian Janey Godley heard the duchess was suffering from hyperemesis gradarum (HG), it brought back memories of her own pregnancy.
“I almost died when I had it,” she said. “I had almost nine months of it and was advised to have an abortion.”
In the Eighties, patients with HG were sometimes told it was a psychological condition. Godley, right, was warned she might not want to accept her baby after she was born. “I lost three stone during the pregnancy and I wasn’t big to start with. I couldn’t eat anything – I had to be fed intravenously,” she said. “The only way I can describe it was like feeling car sick all the time. I even felt sick when I was asleep. People say to you, ‘It is only a bit of sickness – just have a ginger biscuit and you’ll be OK’.
“But it is still the worst illness I have ever had. I was sick every day for nine months and it never got better. One night, I went into a coma and my husband thought I was dead.”