What is Ptyalism?
Though it has a funny name, ptyalism (ti´ah-lizm) is simply an excess production of saliva. As a symptom of pregnancy it occurs frequently in women who are suffering from nausea or morning sickness and seems to occur most often during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
"Most authorities believe ptyalism actually represents inability of the nauseated woman to swallow normal amounts of saliva rather than a true increase in the production of saliva," says Dr. Jorge Pando, an OB-GYN with Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, Florida.
"When I was pregnant with my first daughter five years ago, especially at the beginning of the pregnancy, I found myself constantly 'spitting' at co-workers in conversations," says Karen* of Youngstown, New York. "I didn't realize at the time that it was connected with being pregnant! It was only after I read about it as a 'symptom' later on that I said, 'ah ha, well that explains it!'"
Causes and Duration
Increased salivation can be related to heartburn, which is common during pregnancy. "The contents of your stomach are acidic, and when they back up on you, they irritate your esophagus and cause the burning sensation so familiar to heartburn sufferers," Dr. Pando says. "The acid sensors in your esophagus then trigger your salivary glands to produce saliva that has an increased concentration of bicarbonate, which is alkaline."
As with morning sickness, ptyalism seems to be most common early in pregnancy. But, also like morning sickness, that's variable among women. For Dorothy Leland of Davis, Califorinia, the ptyalism lasted about six weeks. "Then it was gone as suddenly as it had started," she says. "I asked my doctor about it, and he said that it was not uncommon in pregnancy, and had to do with hormones."
However, Arlinda McIntosh found that the excess saliva production occurred 24 hours a day. "[I had] not one hour without a cleverly decorated spittoon at home, a purse full of tissues when I went out, and a towel on my pillow," says the Verona, New Jersey, resident, who found that the condition lasted six months with her first child, eight months with her second, and all nine months with her last.
Can It Cause Complications?
Thankfully, ptyalism is a fairly benign symptom when associated with pregnancy. It isn't a sign of a more serious problem, and it isn't likely to cause harm to either the mother or baby.
"I was worried about it when I first started to notice it," says Amy Oztan of Brooklyn, New York. "But thank goodness for the Internet. I looked it up and found that it was very common in pregnant women."
Oztan mentioned it to her physician, who confirmed what she'd read on the Internet and told her not to worry, though the symptoms were annoying. "I was very aware of it for a few months," she says. "It made me feel like I was going to throw up, even though being pregnant wasn't making me nauseous."
However, depending on the severity, ptyalism can cause a loss of one to two liters of saliva a day. "As much as two quarts of saliva has been collected in a day from one case, making dehydration a possible condition associated with excessive saliva production," Dr. Pando says. "To prevent dehydration women should drink plenty of fluids as well as to swallow as much saliva as possible."