Coping With Severe Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is a common pregnancy symptom for many women. Regular morning sickness is inconvenient and definitely unpleasant, but it usually ends within the first 16 weeks. Some women experience severe morning sickness where they're affected the entire day and every day and sometimes for the whole pregnancy. Some will find relief mid-way through the second trimester. This is called hyperemesis gravidarum and can cause jaundice, headaches, dehydration and dizziness. The American Journal of Perinatology estimates that as many as two percent of pregnant women suffer from this condition.

The Cause

The medical community doesn't know the specific cause of hyperemesis gravidarum and why some women experience it while the majority of pregnant women don't. There are speculations and theories that some women's bodies react adversely to the raised levels of the human chorionic gonadoptrophin (HCG) hormone in pregnancy. Often women experience hyperemesis gravidarum when pregnant with multiples where higher levels of HCG are present, which supports the theory that the level hormone can make pregnancy nausea worse.

Other theories suggest that the slower speed at which the stomach and intestines empty themselves during pregnancy may be the cause. Still other theories say it's simply a reaction the higher levels of estrogen and progesterone and some women's bodies can't handle the huge hormonal change. For a time there was the theory that hyperemesis gravidarum was a psychological condition and all in the woman's head because she had emotional problems or simply didn't want the pregnancy.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Diagnosis usually requires a loss of at least five percent of a woman's pre-pregnancy weight because of the constant nausea and vomiting. Dehydration, constipation and ketosis are common. Metabolic imbalances and nutritional deficiencies will be detected.

Women with hyperemesis gravidarum often have an altered sense of taste, can't handle motion as well as they once could without getting sick, hallucinations from lack of food and water, broken blood vessels in the eyes from all the vomiting and difficulty with daily activities.

Women can lose as much as 20 percent of their pre-pregnancy weight from this condition which can significantly impact the mother's health and the health of the baby she's carrying.

Impacts of Hyperemesis Gravidarum

There are obviously health impacts to both the mother and the developing baby. But there are also other significant impacts that can drastically disrupt the life of a pregnant woman.

She may begin to feel depressed because she feels so terrible. She might begin to hate her pregnancy and even her unborn child. There may be family strains since the mother-to-be is unable to perform her daily tasks. She might lose her job which could cause financial strain. Additional financial strain might be experienced because of increased prescriptions, hospital or doctor visits. If she has other children, she'll likely have difficulty parenting them.

Medical Complications for the Mother

Women with extremely severe morning sickness can suffer from many problems including malnutrition, jaundice, kidney failure, brain damage, blood clotting problems, muscle atrophy, bleeding from tears (Mallory-Weiss syndrome), low blood sugar, impaired short term memory and a type of emphysema.

Medical complications to the fetus include premature birth and low birth weight. There aren't any documented studies conducted on the development of children from women who experienced hyperemesis gravidarum during their pregnancies.


Treatment options are limited and the only cure is the birth of the baby. Treatment includes IV hydration and a limited selection of medications including antiemetic drugs, antihistamines and corticosteroids. Intravenous feeding might be necessary to make sure the woman and her developing baby are getting some nutrients.

In rare cases, a surgically placed tube (percutaneous endoscopic gastronomy) might be necessary to pass nutrients.


It's crucial that a woman experiencing hyperemesis gets extra love and support. Do not blame yourself. And try to remember that this will pass is a few months. Bed rest or acupressure may be suggested or prescribed to try to reduce the nausea.


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