Most women experience morning sickness during pregnancy, but a small percentage suffer from a condition called hyperemesis gravidarm (HG). Women with HG experience nausea accompanied by severe vomiting. HG is diagnosed when a woman loses 5 percent or more of her pre-pregnancy weight. Early symptoms of HG include changes in taste or smell, food aversions, and nausea accompanied by vomiting. They usually appear between 4 – 6 weeks of pregnancy, peak between 9 – 13 weeks, and usually improve by 15 – 20 weeks. Some women experience symptoms throughout the pregnancy.
Women with HG have numerous episodes of vomiting throughout the day with few symptom-free days. Vomiting can be so severe that mucus, bile, or blood may be present. The severe vomiting leads to rapid weight loss, dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and nutritional deficiencies, which can cause headaches, dizziness, fainting, confusion, extreme fatigue, low blood pressure, and decreased urination.
Specialists believe that HG is caused by a number of factors, including genetics, body chemistry, and overall health. Many theorize that hormonal changes contribute to HG, since symptoms occur and peak when hormone levels elevate during early pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones can also stimulate thyroid hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism. The severity of HG is often linked to the degree of hyperthyroidism. Hormonal changes can cause gastrointestinal changes leading the contents of the small intestine to be regurgitated into the stomach or esophagus, and then vomited. B6 and zinc deficiencies are correlated with nausea and vomiting, and may be a contributing factor to HG. Like many poorly understood diseases, a psychological cause is sometimes suggested when a physiological cause cannot be pinpointed.
Early treatment for HG is important for the health and wellbeing of a mother and fetus. Bed rest is often suggested to treat HG, but is ineffective in treating the causes and most symptoms. It can also lead to muscle atrophy, depression, and lethargy, which can exacerbate HG.
B6 supplements have been shown to decrease nausea and vomiting. B12, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C and E supplements may also reduce symptoms. Herbs, such as horehound, ginger, peppermint, and chamomile have long been used to relieve nausea and vomiting. It is important to consult your doctor before taking supplements or herbs, especially when pregnant.
Many women find relief from HG symptoms through acupuncture or acupressure. The acupuncture point for nausea is located in the middle of the inner wrist, three finger breadths away from the wrist crease. Press firmly on this spot for three minutes, or wear a “Seaband” – a bracelet made to prevent motion sickness by stimulating this point. Hypnosis or broad spectrum light therapy may also help.
Hospitalization may be required to treat a severe case of HG. Intravenous fluids (IV) will be administered to restore hydration, electrolytes, vitamins, and nutrients. Metoclopramide, antihistamines, or antireflux medications may be prescribed. In extreme cases, nutrients may be restored through tube feeding.
If you experience any symptoms of HG, you must see your doctor immediately. If treated early, the severity of the condition and the chance of complications for mother and baby can be greatly reduced. If untreated, HG can cause low birth weight, preterm labor, pre-eclampsia, and postpartum depression. Malnutrition and dehydration during pregnancy can put a child at risk for chronic disease later in life. Severe cases can cause congenital heart disease, neural tube defects, skeletal and central nervous system malformations, behavioral and emotional problems, and even perinatal death. If untreated, HG can lead to maternal depression, hypoglycemia, nerve damage, and even kidney failure. Many women experience long term effects of HG, including gall bladder disease, joint disorders, depression, anxiety, weight management problems, and diabetes.