When Morning Sickness Takes Over
Surviving hyperemesis gravidarum
During her six-year struggle with infertility, Paula Johnson envied other pregnant women and was frustrated by their complaints of morning sickness. “I thought I would do anything to experience it, if it meant I could have a baby,” says Paula, “I guess I should have been more careful what I wished for!”
Once pregnant with twins, Paula was debilitated by severe morning sickness. “When the nausea started, it started with a vengeance,” she says. “I felt ill from the moment I got up in the morning until I went to bed. It was just a constant feeling of seasickness. When I woke up during the night to use the bathroom, I felt so terrible that I couldn’t get back to sleep without eating something. The nausea was bad after I ate and worse if my stomach was empty.”
Paula suffered from a life-threatening illness called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a condition described by The Hyperemesis Education & Research Foundation (HER) as “a debilitating disease of pregnancy marked by moderate to severe nausea/vomiting that causes rapid weight loss, malnutrition and dehydration in the mother, and unknown consequences for their unborn child(ren).”
Onset of HG
Up to 90 percent of pregnant women experience morning sickness to some degree, with the onset of the nausea almost always beginning by 9 to 10 weeks of gestation, often peaking at weeks 11 to 13, and diminishing by weeks 12 to 14. Only 1 to 10 percent of pregnancies have these symptoms continue beyond 20 to 22 weeks. While regular morning sickness (so called because symptoms are especially worse in the morning when the stomach is empty) is not harmful to either the mother or child, for the two percent of women who suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum there is danger to both their own health and that of their unborn children.
The continuous nausea and vomiting indicative of HG can result in rapid and significant weight loss (usually 5 to 10 pounds or more during the first trimester), dehydration, electrolyte disturbances (imbalances in the vital salts that affect all bodily functions), ketosis and acetonuria (presence of ketones in the blood stream caused by lack of glucose in the blood). These conditions often require hospitalization to replenish liquids and treat malnutrition, and failure of prompt and adequate treatment can lead to irreversible renal, neurological, and hepatic (liver) damage, in addition to emotional exhaustion that leaves many women unable to care for themselves or their families.
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