April 17, 2024

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Still Isn’t Taken Seriously

I lay alone in bed, tying the minutes together with deep, shuddering breaths, playing my favourite songs to myself in my head, note by note, lyric by lyric. They were the only two things I could do; I couldn’t move, eat, drink, look at my phone or the TV; most days I couldn’t even bring myself to speak. In 21 days I lost a stone.

It wasn’t until my fourth month of pregnancy that I left the house for anything other than a medical appointment again.

That was what hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, looked like for me.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a classic example of an illness that most people don’t know how to pronounce, let alone know anything about (it’s hyper-em-uh-sis grav-uh-dare-um, by the way). I had heard of it once before, as the illness Kate Middleton suffered, but didn’t comprehend its severity until I’d experienced it first-hand.

Thankfully, we’re finally starting to understand more about not only what causes it, but how we can make it more bearable.

Kimber MacGibbon is a US-based registered nurse and the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the HER Foundation. The foundation campaigns for better awareness, support and research around hyperemesis gravidarum, and is the only organisation in the world to develop clinical HG resources and conduct genetic research on the HG. She’s worked with patients who suffer from the condition for 22 years and has twice experienced the condition herself.

“It is a miserable disease,” she says, “imagine having food poisoning for months on end without relief. ”

“HG is a pregnancy disease which causes an inability to eat, drink, and function due to severe nausea and vomiting. Recent research has found that the greatest genetic risk factor is the presence of the gene GDF15. GDF15 codes for a hormone that is also called GDF15; this causes the symptoms of nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss and even taste aversions. The result is severe dehydration, malnutrition and stress on the body, which in turn increases the level of GDF15 hormones and makes a mother even sicker. ”

So what’s the difference between standard morning sickness and HG?

“Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) ranges from mild, which is ‘morning sickness’, to severe, which is HG. All those who suffer from NVP deserve to be treated with compassion and respect by healthcare providers, employers, and family. However, while ‘morning sickness’ is extremely unpleasant, HG can be dangerous and even life-threatening for mother and baby. Mothers can develop hemorrhage or pre-eclampsia, go into preterm labor, and suffer from ruptured throats, severe dental damage; even organ damage,” she says.

Notably, some mothers who began their pregnancy with just moderate morning sickness will develop HG, but as Kimber stresses, this could often be avoided.

“Many healthcare professionals don’t take HG seriously enough until a mother is extremely ill, but many of the worst symptoms can be avoided with aggressive care, extra support, and time off from work and family responsibilities to rest and avoid what makes them sicker. This is why treating HG both quickly and effectively is critical. ”

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