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Hyperemesis is much more than morning sickness: Raising awareness

Jenny Decker RN's picture
Morning Sickness

Sharing my story in honor of the First Annual Hyperemsis Gravidarum World Awareness Day allows me to make something positive out of my experience.

At the tender age of 20, I found out I was expecting my first child. I was very delighted, a little nervous, but couldn’t wait to go shopping for baby stuff. Not long after, hyperemesis began to rear its ugly head. Of course, morning sickness was what I thought I had. The nausea was so severe, I could not move. The distance from the bed to the bathroom was enormously overwhelming. The vomiting got out of control, often as many times as 20 in one hour.

I was lucky to have a caring physician, who listened to all that I told him was going on. He did not belittle me or tell me it was all in my mind. Many women who suffer from HG do not have such luck. Their doctors do tell them it is all in their head, that being pregnant you may be uncomfortable and have morning sickness. But hyperemesis (HG) is not morning sickness. Huge differences between HG and morning sickness abound.

Morning sickness is relatively easy to treat. Often some B-vitamins with unisom are used to help the nausea. Eating crackers and dry carbohydrates helps as well, with the intent that keeping food in the stomach often helps abate the nausea and sometimes vomiting. But with HG, these things often make the problem worse. I often wondered why experts recommended these things because they did not help me. In fact, to this day, due to a food aversion I cannot eat crackers on many occasions. Other foods throughout my other pregnancies have made an impact for the worse with me. For instance, peanut butter or even the smell of it makes me very sick. This is a common occurrence with those suffering from hyperemesis. With hyperemesis, it is noted that it is often about 500 times worse than the symptoms of morning sickness, a debilitating and life threatening condition.

Along with the nausea, vomiting, dehydration, food aversions and more comes anxiety and depression. Day after day of being so sick and unable to do anything to help myself, I found myself thinking of things I never thought I would. When a person goes through an ordeal such as starvation, self-preservation then takes over. I wanted the illness to go away, so much so, that I began to think of ways I could end the suffering so that way I could survive. I eventually made it through and amazingly the extreme nausea and vomiting subsided immediately after giving birth.

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Yes, death does happen with HG. If it is not treated or treated soon enough, then the body shuts down and the kidneys fail. This is one of the horrible results of HG. The First Annual Hyperemesis Gravidarum World Awareness Day that occurred on Wednesday, May 15th, was executed in order to bring awareness not only to the public, but to those who are providing care to these women who suffer so much with this. It is necessary to not ignore the problem and to treat as soon as possible. It is a real condition, not in our heads.

The children who are born from such pregnancies also have lasting problems. From issues related to decreased nutrition during pregnancy to moms who may develop post traumatic stress disorder, to learning disabilities and the list goes on. The problem of HG extends far beyond just the mother who is expecting a baby.

During a time when a couple is supposed to be picking names, shopping for cribs, admiring baby clothes, and dreaming about their baby (a happy time), families that deal with HG do so together and it is not the happy time that pregnancy should be. The father often becomes the caretaker of the family. If the mother was the main breadwinner, the father may find himself suddenly without income or a decreased income. Hospital stays, expensive medication to help the nausea and vomiting, procedures for PICC lines and central lines in order to keep the mother alive, and many other things weigh heavily upon his mind. What if he loses his wife? What if the baby dies? What if they cannot afford the medication? What if the insurance company will not pay for the medication? These are all issues the father faces.

Children who are already born and part of the family become isolated from their mother. If there are older children in the home, then they can help the mother with the younger children and household chores. But if the mother has very young children, then who feeds them? baths them? keeps them safe from harm? Gets them to preschool? If family are close by, then they sometimes pitch in to help, but when the HG continues throughout the pregnancy, it is not uncommon for the family to stop helping because they believe the mother is making up her illness and should be able to help herself. Then what happens?

These are all things the whole family struggles with when the mother is expecting a new baby and has hyperemesis. With lasting adverse effects lasting sometimes years for the mother and the family, research on HG is essential in order to help these families have a healthy happy pregnancy and healthy children.

Image source: MorgueFile



I have suffered greatly recently with hyperemesis. This was my third pregnancy and I have never before witnessed or gone through anything like it. It began in my sixth week of pregnancy and my GP was so supportive as was my consultant in hospital. I was never told it was in my head but was given information leaflets and treated once in hospital. However last week I buried my little baby boy and this has left me unconsolable. I have two other boys and Like in the article I could not do anything to help them while I was so sick. My husband became the sole caregiver in our home and he ws briliant and all through the sickness he was there for me. To anyone suffering from hyperemesis please get help and ask to be placed in hospital. I should have and maybe I would still be pregnant.
I am so sorry to hear of your loss. That is so tragic. Many women who have HG do lose a child. Please go to the website of HER www.helper.org/ so you can get some support with some of the others who have gone through this as well. They are wonderful ladies with whom to get support. Thanks for sharing your story.
I am absolutely stunned and relieved at the same time to read your article. I was pregnant with my son 22 years ago. The first five months were extremely difficult. I suffered from most of the symptoms you have described. Chronic vomiting, weight loss, food aversion (mine was fish, I still can not stand the smell). Oddly, after my fifth month, all symptoms seemed to disappear, except for the food aversion. I felt fantastic, full of energy. My baby was born underweight and I was unable to breastfeed. But he soon took to formula quite well. When he was a month old, a large portion of my hair fell out. I'm not quite sure if this symptom is related to HG. However, I'm happy to report that my son grew up healthy and happy with no signs of a learning disability and is about to graduate from college. I feel very grateful and humbled as I feel I and my son were very lucky. Thank you so much for posting this article.