Understanding hyperemesis gravidarum

Understanding hyperemesis gravidarum

Royal baby #3 is on its way! And while this is a very exciting time for the royal family, the Duchess of Cambridge is again suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.

So what exactly is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy which can make pregnant mums feel awful and cause problems because mum can’t retain and utilise food and fluids.

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, also known as morning sickness, affects around 85 per cent of pregnant women, while hyperemesis gravidarum is much less common and affects less than three per cent of pregnant women.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms are persistent nausea and severe vomiting in pregnancy that can lead to dehydration, weight loss and an electrolyte imbalance.

It can be very serious and even life threatening, although thankfully these cases are very rare.

What causes hyperemesis gravidarum?

The exact cause of hyperemesis gravidarum (and nausea and vomiting in pregnancy in general) isn’t clearly understood. It is thought to be related to rising levels of human beta hCG hormone (also known as the pregnancy hormone). 

Hyperemesis gravidarum tends to occur more frequently in women with conditions associated with higher hCG hormone levels such as molar pregnancies (a type of pregnancy where a baby doesn’t develop properly) and twin pregnancies. These conditions are uncommon however, and most women with hyperemesis gravidarum have normal, healthy pregnancies.

Treatment options

Treatment options depend on the specific situation but may include a visit to hospital for intravenous fluids and electrolytes.

There are also various medications that may be used to help to keep things under control and a change in diet and rest can help with milder forms of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.

Fortunately for most women the symptoms tend to improve toward the end of the first trimester or early in the second trimester, but occasionally the symptoms may hang around throughout the entire pregnancy.

Will I get it again in future pregnancies?

Unfortunately the recurrence rate for hyperemesis gravidarum is between 15 and 80 per cent.
Read our full blog about nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. 


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For urgent assessment at any stage of your pregnancy, please present to your nearest emergency centre or Mater Mothers’ 24/7 Pregnancy Assessment Centre in South Brisbane.

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