It looks like Kate Middleton is gearing up for another rough ride. With two adorable children and a third on the way, the Duchess of Cambridge is shedding light on a mysterious illness that sends over 100,000 women to the emergency room every year.
What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a condition that makes pregnancy a nightmare for expectant mothers. Sufferers typically experience severe nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dehydration, and weight loss.
But wait, aren’t those just the normal symptoms of morning sickness?
For decades – maybe even centuries – doctors thought so, too. In fact, many doctors simply dismissed the concerns of women who complained of these symptoms. Or worse, chalked them up to psychological distress.
What makes the disease so difficult to understand is that the medical community has no clear-cut definition for HG. The symptoms of the condition live on a spectrum, and doctors say that clinics across the country are using different criteria to diagnose the problem.
This explains why many women don’t realize that they have it.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum’s most frequently-cited symptoms are also seen in normal pregnancies.
While nausea and intermittent vomiting (morning sickness) are common during the first trimester of pregnancy, these symptoms usually clear up before long. However, HG is characterized by persistent vomiting, and nausea that can be triggered by the faintest hint of a smell or the slightest motion.
Even crackers, ginger soda, and water may be too much for the sufferer to handle. And the illness significantly interrupts your social life. Cooking in the kitchen, visiting another person’s house, or even eating out could induce a nauseous episode, keeping you from friends and family and contributing to feelings of isolation.
Many women are even unable to sleep in the same bed with their partners. Just ask Shara Lessley, who says she would get motion sickness “if my husband rolled over during his sleep or even adjusted a blanket.”
Aside from severe nausea and vomiting while pregnant, doctors typically look for loss of appetite and weight loss. Losing 5% of your pre-pregnancy weight is usually cause for concern, especially when coupled with dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance.
Doctors have no idea what causes the condition, but there is evidence to suggest the cause is genetic. If your sister has HG, for example, you’re 17 times more likely to have it yourself.
And once you’re diagnosed with it, you’re likely to experience it with every subsequent pregnancy.
The disease is uncommon (certainly less than miscarriage) but not as rare as you might think. Between 0.5% and 3% of women may be affected by it. The exact prevalence is difficult to pin down, because the condition is not well-understood.
The scariest part? Complications related to HG can be deadly.
Doctors say that deaths are usually caused by some complication that’s been linked to Hyperemesis Gravidarum, such as a heart attack, stroke, or Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
So, what can you do? If you believe you may have HG, consult with your OB-GYN immediately. Although there is no cure, there are some medications for Hyperemesis Gravidarum’s that can help manage the symptoms, including Phernegan, Reglan, Dicleges, and Ondansetron.
You may also want to join a support group. Patients often feel as though they have no one to talk to about their condition, or that they’re oversharing deeply private symptoms. Support groups, such as the Gravidarum Support Group on Facebook, help women voice their concerns, trade information, and find others who understand what they’re going through.
A new app designed as a tool for HG sufferers is currently in beta testing. It’s called HG Care, and the developers at UCLA and the HER Foundation are looking for women’s feedback.
Learn more about Hyperemesis Gravidarum from our friends over at NBC News.