What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum and How is it Treated?

Discover more about this debilitating condition that affects around 1% of pregnant women.

Hyperemesis gravidarum has hit the news in recent years, after Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge suffered from it during all three of her pregnancies. It’s normal for women to suffer from sickness and nausea during pregnancy, but hyperemesis gravidarum causes extreme and intrusive sickness, often for weeks or months during pregnancy. It can be a terrifying condition and lead to some serious consequences.

We take a look at this condition and potential treatments, below.

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Hyperemesis gravidarum or HG is a condition that occurs in only a small number of pregnant women – between 0.5 and 2%. HG causes loss of appetite and extreme nausea and vomiting, making it difficult for sufferers to keep down any food or drink at all. It can be very serious for both mum and baby, causing extreme dehydration.


pregnant woman suffering morning sickness


What is the difference between hyperemesis gravidarum and morning sickness?

Morning sickness affects many women in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and includes nausea and occasional vomiting. Morning sickness only causes minor loss of appetite and does not usually prevent women from going to work or carrying out normal daily activities. HG, on the other hand, causes persistent and extreme nausea and vomiting alongside almost complete loss of appetite. It can last for months and sometimes throughout the whole pregnancy. HG normally starts in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy and can be accompanied by weight loss, dizziness, and dehydration.

What causes hyperemesis gravidarum?

HG is caused by a hormone produced by the placenta called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is the hormone that causes normal morning sickness; however, it seems to have a greater effect on women who experience HG.

What are the risk factors for hyperemesis gravidarum?

Any woman can suffer from HG but there are some risk factors that may mean you are more likely to be affected. These include:

  • Being overweight
  • If your mother or family members suffered from HG
  • Carrying twins or multiple babies
  • If this is your first pregnancy

Women who are suffering from abnormal cell development in their womb – trophoblastic disease – may also be at risk of HG.

How does hyperemesis gravidarum impact the lives of women who suffer from it?

The HER Foundation, reports that women suffering from HG often encounter serious challenges. These include:

  • Long periods off work which may lead to a loss of employment
  • Inability to carry out household chores
  • Prolonged periods of fatigue
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Relationship strain
  • Financial loss
  • Isolation

What treatments are available for hyperemesis gravidarum?

Cases of HG may require specialist medical treatment at a hospital, including intravenous fluids or tube feeding through the nose. There are certain medications that may be prescribed to reduce feelings of nausea. In more extreme cases, a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy may be performed. This allows nutrients to be passed into the stomach via a tube. Bed rest may also be prescribed with caution, as too much bed rest can increase muscle wastage and weight loss.

There are some holistic and homeopathic remedies that may be suggested by a doctor or sought out by patients. These include

  • Acupressure – here, pressure points on the body are manipulated in order to reduce feelings of nausea. The pressure point for nausea is in the middle of the inner wrist. Women are advised to locate and press firmly for 3 minutes, alternating wrists.
  • Herbal remedies – ginger and peppermint are natural treatments for nausea
  • Hypnosis – some women report that hypnosis can allow them to better overcome feelings of nausea.

You should never embark on any natural remedies or treatment without first talking to your doctor.

Which celebrities have suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum?

Although HG is relatively rare, it has still affected a number of women in the public eye. These are just some of the famous women who have battled extreme sickness during pregnancy:

Amy Schumer

Comedian, Amy Schumer, suffered from HG into her second trimester. She was hospitalised causing her to cancel a number of shows. Her HG was so severe that she told fans, “I vomit every time I ride in a car even for 5 minutes.”

Kelly Clarkson

Singer and American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, is a mum of two but says that her experience with HG is something that would make her think twice about adding another baby to her brood. After an even rougher pregnancy the second time around, she claimed, “It’s just, like, my body was not made to be pregnant.”

The Duchess of Cambridge

Kate Middleton is perhaps the most famous mum to struggle with HG in the world. She was hospitalised whilst pregnant with Prince George and went on to suffer from symptoms throughout two further pregnancies.

Is there anything you can do to prevent hyperemesis gravidarum?

Unfortunately, women who are prone to HG are unlikely to be able to prevent symptoms in full. However, previous sufferers or those who know they are at risk can try to reduce the strength of symptoms by eating small bland meals and taking vitamin supplements during early pregnancy and while they are trying to conceive.

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