The vast majority of pregnant women experience some type of nausea and vomiting during their pregnancies. Commonly referred to as morning sickness, this pregnancy symptom typically causes no serious health complications. However, if you are experiencing persistent nausea and vomiting, you may be suffering from a more extreme form of morning sickness, called Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This pregnancy complication can be extremely unpleasant and, if left untreated, may result in serious health complications for both you and baby.
What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Hyperemesis gravidarum, is a serious illness that occurs during pregnancy. Affecting up to 50,000 American women every year, hyperemesis gravidarum causes extreme and persistent nausea and vomiting. It can cause a number of side effects, including rapid weight loss, nutritional deficiency, and dehydration. If left untreated, hyperemesis gravidarum may also impact upon the health of an unborn child.
What Causes Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Unfortunately, the cause of hyperemesis gravidarum remains a mystery. In the past, the condition was thought to be purely psychological, and was assumed to be a way for a mother to mentally reject her pregnancy and her child. However, this is now known not to be the case. Hyperemesis gravidarum does have a physiological cause, but this cause has yet to be pinpointed. Possible causes of the condition include:
- high levels of pregnancy hormones, including hCG and estrogen
- vitamin deficiency or improper diet
- overactive thyroid gland
- acid reflux disease
- Helibacter Pylori infection (infection that causes stomach ulcers)
Who Gets Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Every pregnant woman is at risk for developing hyperemesis gravidarum. However, the disease is very rare, affecting only 0.5% to 2% of all pregnant women. Certain factors appear to increase your risk of the disease, including:
- young maternal age
- experiencing a twin pregnancy
- previous hyperemesis gravidarum
You are also at increased risk for hyperemesis gravidarum if you are experiencing your first pregnancy.
Symptoms of Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Hyperemesis gravidarum symptoms typically begin during the 8th week of pregnancy and last until the 20th week of pregnancy. However, between 10% and 20% of women suffering from the disease experience symptoms throughout their entire pregnancy. The most common symptoms include:
- persistent vomiting
- vomiting bile
- vomiting blood
- rapid weight loss (amounting to at least 5% of pre-pregnancy body weight)
- severe fatigue
- excessive salivation
- vitamin and mineral deficiency
Complications Associated with Hyperemesis Gravidarum
If left untreated, hyperemesis gravidarum can become quite severe, causing a number of serious health complications. Women experiencing severe symptoms may find that their quality of life becomes severely compromised. They may be unable to go to work, socialize, or even perform simple household chores. Ongoing symptoms may also trigger:
- stomach ulcers
- liver disorders
- severe weight loss
- gallbladder disease
Hyperemesis gravidarum rarely affects the health of the unborn child, unless weight loss continues well into the second trimester. Some studies have shown that babies born to women who experienced hyperemesis gravidarum are more likely to be of low birth weight. The illness may also increase the likelihood of preterm labor.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum Treatment
Quick treatment is essential if you are suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum. You will likely need to be hospitalized in order to replenish your fluids and replace your body's lost vitamins and minerals. Women who are suffering from severe vomiting may be fed through a tube placed inside of the stomach.
Your health care provider will likely offer you medications for nausea relief. Some of these medications are safe to take during pregnancy, while others are associated with a slight increase in the risk of birth defects. It is important to discuss the side effects of all medications with your health care provider prior to use. Commonly prescribed medications include antihistamines (like diclectin and Dramamine), as well as the serotonin-agonists Zofran and Aloxi.
If you are unable to receive traditional medical treatment, you may want to look towards alternative treatments to help relieve your nausea. Women often find that acupuncture, homeopathy, and massage help to relieve symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum. You may also want to look into using specially formatted cds that have been clinically proven to ease the symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum.
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