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What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

By now, the entire world knows that Kate Middleton—officially, Catherine, Duchhess of Cambridge—is expecting her second child. We have also heard about the severe form of morning sickness from which she is suffering, again. Indeed, hyperemesis gravidarum is a serious condition that can make life for a pregnant woman very difficult. If left untreated, it may even put her health in jeopardy.

"This is a severe form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy," says Dr. David Ghausi, an OB-GYN at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Typically, a sufferer will vomit at least three times a day and may not be able to keep down food or even liquid. The result is a loss of electrolytes and dehydration. While hyperemesis gravidarum is rarely harmful for a growing fetus, dehydration is dangerous for the woman. Signs that medical attention may be required are:

  • Loss of 3 to 5 pounds or more
  • Infrequent urination, with more than eight to 10 hours between trips to the bathroom
  • Chapped lips
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to keep food or liquid down

A doctor may recommend over-the-counter remedies at first, including a B6 vitamin supplement, and ginger. But if symptoms persist, IV nutrition may be necessary. Some women require in-home nursing care for ongoing treatment.

"By 12 to 16 weeks' gestation, the condition often resolves," Ghausi says, although sometimes it can last the entire pregnancy.

Thankfully, this is very rare, especially considering that only about 5 percent of pregnant women will suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum at all. Unfortunately, doctors don't fully understand why some moms-to-be are plagued by this affliction or why it happens during one pregnancy and not another. It's more likely for a woman to suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum with subsequent pregnancies if she has had it before.

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