Understanding hyperemesis gravidarum

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
While many women deal with morning sickness during pregnancy, there’s another condition with even more severe symptoms. Hyperemesis gravidarum is responsible for frequent vomiting, or throwing up, during pregnancy.
With hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnant woman finds herself vomiting several times a day, every day. When this happens a woman may become severely dehydrated and lose weight.

Symptoms of dehydration to watch out include:
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Weight loss
  • Less frequent urination
  • Dizziness when you stand up

If you’re having any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. The symptoms for pregnant women with hyperemesis gravidarum normally begin sometime during month two or three. They usually taper off and women start feeling better by mid pregnancy, however some women continue to feel sick.

If you truly do have hyperemesis gravidarum, your nurse or doctor will be able to figure it out by an exam and learning more about your symptoms.

If you’re vomiting so much it’s hurting your body, your nurse or doctor may want to do a test and see if there’s something else to blame. These tests may include an ultrasound for checking your baby, as well as urine and blood tests.

How to feel better

You can do some things on your own to help yourself feel better. These include:
  • Snacking often and eating smaller meals - Carbohydrate or protein-rich foods are great choices, as are foods low in fat. This may include pretzels, bread, nuts, low-fat yogurt or crackers.
  • Eating when you start to feel hungry, or before
  • Avoiding greasy, acidic (oranges) or spicy foods
  • Sucking on a ginger-flavored lollipop or popsicle
  • Drinking clear, cold beverages like ginger ale or sports drinks - Do not drink coffee. Also, rather that drinking with a meal, try to drink between meals.
  • Avoiding lying down right after a meal
  • Brushing your teeth after eating
  • Avoiding environmental things that may upset your stomach like stuffy or hot places, loud noises or strong smells
  • Taking vitamins with a bedtime snack, rather than taking them in the morning
  • Having someone else cook your meals
  • Wearing special acupressure bands. Placed on your wrists, they may help people with motion sickness or morning sickness.

Treating hyperemesis gravidarum

Treating hyperemesis gravidarum is dependent on the severity of your symptoms. If you end up losing a lot of weight, or if you’re dehydrated, you’ll likely need to go to the hospital for treatment. This treatment may include medicines that will help you stop vomiting and help stop your nausea. It may also mean using an IV to get fluids into your vein.

If this doesn’t work, it’s possible to be fed through a tube in your nose that leads into your stomach or by feeding you through a vein.

Preventing hyperemesis gravidarum

If you’re trying to get pregnant, or you’re already pregnant, doctors recommend that you start taking vitamins. Make sure the vitamin contains enough folic acid. At least 400 micrograms is recommended. If you’re taking vitamins both before, and during early pregnancy, it may help prevent vomiting and nausea.

As for your baby, those born to a mom with hyperemesis gravidarum are slightly more likely to be a smaller size compared with an average sized baby. There are no other problems for the baby, though. A pregnant mother who takes medicine for vomiting or nausea also should not worry about affecting her baby.

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