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Hyperemesis: Why It's So Much More Than Morning Sickness

Hyperemesis: Why It's So Much More Than Morning Sickness

Hyperemesis: Why It's So Much More Than Morning Sickness
Avril Flynn, Motherboard podcast presenter, mum-of-one and midwife, explains exactly what hyperemesis gravidarum is, and how mums can get help.
 
About 80 percent of pregnant women will report some ‘morning sickness’ in the first trimester. Symptoms usually include nausea and vomiting that can feel like a persistent bad hangover (except you haven’t touched a drop of alcohol!).
 
While very unpleasant, these symptoms do not tend to last all day, every day and will more than likely ease after the end of the first trimester (week 12). 
 
A particularly very unlucky group of mums-to-be can develop a condition called “Hyperemesis Gravidarum” which basically translates to ‘lots of (hyper) puking (emisis) while pregnant (Gravid)’. This condition affects about 1-2 percent of women and makes a pregnancy exceedingly challenging for women and their families. 
 
 
Famous faces that have suffered include Amy Schumer (who documented her very tough pregnancy journey on Instagram) and Kate Middleton. It is an utterly debilitating condition whose symptoms may include continuous nausea and projectile vomiting up to 25 times a day.
 
One of the most frustrating things for sufferers is how little it is understood and how it is often dismissed as “just morning sickness”. Now, for anyone who has ever suffered from it, there is no such thing as “just morning sickness”.  But hyperemesis takes it to a different stratosphere. 
 
Women can lose significant weight, suffer dizziness, over-production of saliva (spit), dehydration, be totally unable to work and effectively become disabled and unable to leave their homes due to the severity of their condition. 
 
It can last an ENTIRE pregnancy.  Just imagine that; feeling so nauseous you can’t walk and have to sit on the floor of the bathroom or in bed with a bucket, so you have something to vomit or spit into, 20 + times a day, for 40 weeks! 
 
Mum may have frequent admissions to hospital during her pregnancy because she is dehydrated and so unwell that she needs to be given IV fluids. Physically it can feel horrendous but it can be extremely challenging for mental health.
 
 
While for some women, symptoms lessen at about the 20-week mark, for others they just have to endure for the whole 9-10 months. 
 
Light at the end of the tunnel
 
Although it may seem bleak, it is important to remember certain facts. Firstly, the baby, despite the hell the mum's body is going through, will develop just fine. Babies born to mums who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, even at the most severe end of the scale, tend to be slightly smaller, but developmentally are perfectly normal. 
 
Secondly, 98-99 percent of women don’t suffer from it so it is a rare complication. However, it is good to know your risk! You are more likely to suffer if you have a family history of it; so if a sister, or mother or aunties have had it, you are more likely to develop it.  Although 9 months will seem like forever, it isn’t; this too shall pass and there will be a beautiful little human at the end of that. 
 
All that being said, that doesn’t take away the extreme suffering of women who have this condition. If you know someone who has had it, it is so important that you understand just how unwell they may feel and to try to be as supportive as you possibly can.
 

Getting help and support
 
So what can you do if you think you might be developing hyperemesis, or know someone who may have it, and what supports are available? 
 
If you are pregnant and have been vomiting for more than 24 hours, unable to keep fluids down, haven’t passed urine in 8 hours or are passing small amounts of dark coloured urine, have weight loss, blood in your urine or blood in your vomit then seek medical attention immediately. Even if it’s still early in a pregnancy, and you may not have booked into a particular hospital, you can still attend any of the public early pregnancy assessment units, which offer a 24-hour service, similar to A+E.  
 
Early diagnosis and treatment means women are less likely to develop more severe dehydration and related exhaustion. If you have been diagnosed with hyperemesis and are unable to keep fluids down, it’s important to seek medical attention straight away. 
 
As well as IV fluids, there is a drug called Cariban that is safe to use in pregnancy can be prescribed to alleviate symptoms. It can work very well with some women but unfortunately not for all. 
 
As caregivers, partners, friends and family the best thing we can do is educate ourselves about the condition, support, listen and show as much compassion and kindness as we can to women who suffer from it. 
 
Please see a list of supports and further information:
 
HSE.ie
 
Hyperemesis.ie
 
Pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk
 
https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k5000