Sounds offensive. Caught your attention? Good, because it is offensive. It’s offensive to women suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum(HG). “Eat some crackers!” Is a suggestion a lot of women suffering from this disease get from even the most caring of people. What’s…. Hyperemesis Gravidarum you ask? NOT morning sickness that’s for sure!

Seriously though.

According to the HER Foundation; “Hyperemesis Gravidarum(HG) is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the mom-to-be and the newborn(s).” It’s a debilitating condition of pregnancy that affects about 2% of the pregnant population. Although there is speculation that those numbers are under reported due to lack of medical education and ineffective diagnoses. Numbers are estimated to be closer to 11%. That 2% being the severe and hospitalized women suffering from HG.

A recent study found a link between certain genes that provide instructions to build proteins in the development of the placenta and in controlling appetite. They also found that these proteins were abnormally high in suffers’ blood.

That’s right people. This points to genetic factors.

How do you know if you or someone you love could be suffering from HG?

Symptoms usually start at 4-6 weeks gestation. Some women report symptoms beginning before confirmation of pregnancy via elevated levels of hCG. Get ready because the symptom list is a hefty one:

  • Decreased urination
  • Malnutrition
  • Severe Nausea
  • Mild to Severe Vomiting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Headaches
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Food aversions
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid weight loss 5%+ (pre-pregnancy weight)
  • Vomiting mucus, bile or blood.
  • Hypersensitive gag reflex
  • Anxiety and/or Depression
  • Intolerance to motion/noise/light
  • Overactive thyroid/parathyroid
  • Strong Body Odor
  • Incontinence
  • Mental fogginess or confusion
  • Gall bladder dysfunction
  • Jaundice
  • Ketosis
  • Tooth decay
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Liver enzyme elevation
  • Increased risk of postpartum depression
  • Increased risk of preterm delivery

Again unlike morning sickness, which is usually expected and welcome, HG typically last from 20 weeks to birth.

In a recent poll of 343 HG suffers, 227 reported HG symptoms lasting until the birth of the placenta. Over 60% of these women spend their whole pregnancy with HG.

Now that we’ve established that it isn’t just in their heads. That they cant just wish it away or change their attitudes. Let’s get one thing straight. This is NOT, I repeat, NOT morning sickness. The usual “take some ginger”, “eat some crackers”, “just force yourself to eat/drink” suggestions are NOT helpful. They are isolating. They push these women to feel alone and neither are supportive nor informed. Would you be surprised to hear that these suggestions have even come from medical professionals? There is real lack of education about HG amongst obstetricians and midwives. Sometimes its even up to the woman to educate their care provider. Raising awareness is still needed and early intervention is crucial to lessening the severity of HG.

This disease effects all facets of their family’s lives. MANY suffers report considerations of termination, feeling anxious, depressed, losing their job due to the severity of symptoms, effecting their relationships and even their ability to function and complete normal every day tasks.

So, how do you help those suffering?

Don’t shame them for taking medications, no matter how risky you believe them to be. If they are working for her be glad!

She hasn’t taken prenatal vitamins in days/weeks/months/ever? AGAIN, do not shame her. Be glad she’s tried. Those things are hard to swallow even without HG. She already feels guilty about not being able to eat and drink much less take prenatals, she doesn’t need you reminding her of that.

She isn’t eating optimally for nutrition or baby/ies development? If she has found safe foods, even if its soda and nuggets, count your blessings she found something she CAN tolerate.

Many are triggered by talking about food. Be safe and just avoid the subject.

These women do have good days and bad days. Those good days don’t mean its over. She shouldn’t be expected to push herself too much.

Don’t make suggestions about how she should take care of herself or her family. She probably doesn’t have energy to make it to the bathroom to vomit much less take care of herself or others.

If you notice she has not been able to hold anything down for 16-24 hours its time to drive her to the hospital for fluids. Severe dehydration isn’t safe for both mom and baby/ies.

Depending on severity, she may need help even showering. Offer to help in any way she may deem safe for her.

If she has older children, offer to take them off her hands for a day.

Offer to help clean their home, or hire someone to help around the house.

Set up a plan to make sure basic family needs are taken care of for her and the family. Shes struggling to survive, believe me taking out the trash, washing the dishes, cleaning the toilets, going for groceries, meal prepping for the family can go a long way.

Each HG case is unique and the women suffering are in dire need of support from those around her. Be understanding and caring. She is basically dying as she grows life inside her. YES, you read that right. She is dying of malnutrition and dehydration as the life growing inside of her takes from her body’s depleting nutrients. Just ask her, if you listen she will tell you.