By Courtney McCrimmon
I first learned about hyperemesis
gravidarum in graduate school, years before I had any plans to get
pregnant. One of my professors assigned Atul Gawande’s book Complications to my nonfiction writing class. In this collection of essays, Gawande
explores the challenge of treating a wide variety of health conditions, from
morbid obesity to chronic pain. Two of
his essays stood out to me at the time, and have stayed with me since. The
first explored the struggle Dr. Gawande faced learning how to insert a central
line, and the second was his retelling of a woman who faced crippling nausea
throughout the entirety of her pregnancy.
“Fitzpatrick was determined, but she found that she couldn’t
tolerate anything except a bite of cracker or toast. By the end of the week, she needed more
hydration, and the doctor arranged for a visiting nurse to come to her parents’
house and administer IV fluids. Fitzpatrick continually felt that she was on
the verge of throwing up…riding in a car or just standing up brought on severe
motion sickness. She couldn’t make it down the stairs…focusing on a magazine
made her head reel.”
How horrifying, I
thought. I consider nausea one of the
more disconcerting physical ailments a person can experience. You never know
how long it will last, if it will lead to further illness and it can be hard to
readily identify its cause. With both of
my pregnancies, I’ve had significant morning sickness. It’s actually been worse
this time around than it was the first, but in both instances relief arrived in
the middle of the fourth month or so, and ongoing nausea was one pregnancy
symptom I could stop worrying about.
I’ve since learned to never, ever refer to hyperemesis gravidarum
as “bad nausea” – it’s so much more than that. Most of us can thank the Duchess
of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, for making us more aware of exactly what this
pregnancy complication entails: unrelenting nausea and vomiting that often
leads to dehydration that needs to be addressed by a medical professional. It generally starts earlier and lasts longer
than traditional morning sickness, causes significant weight loss and
interferes with the ability to live a normal life.
My friend Jennifer experienced it with both of her
pregnancies and described the experience as debilitating.
“There were some days when I threw up as many as 20 times a
day. I couldn’t eat, was sensitive to light and motion and spent the first
several months of both of my pregnancies in bed. I lost weight and was
hospitalized with dehydration several times, but the IV fluids they gave me
were just a temporary fix,” said Jennifer, who had to take
prescription-strength nausea medication throughout both pregnancies.
According to Steven Caritis, M.D.,
a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC,
hyperemesis gravidarum is relatively rare, occurring in one out of every 50
“With proper hydration and
treatment, most mothers-to-be and their babies will be just fine,” said Dr.
Caritis. “It’s important for women to consult their doctors to rule out any
more serious conditions, just to be safe.”
As with anything
pregnancy-related, if you are worried about your symptoms, talk to your doctor.
“Ob-gyns are used to answering all
sorts of questions,” said Dr. Caritis. “If you are pregnant, and think you are
more sick than what you think is normal for pregnancy, we can help. Even if you
don’t have hyperemesis gravidarum, (and hopefully you don’t!) we can offer tips
and tools to help you manage your symptoms until they disappear.”
This is the one in an occasional series examining pregnancy from the viewpoint of an expectant mom. Courtney McCrimmon is a Manager in the Media Relations department at UPMC.
Labels: hyperemesis gravidarum, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, pregnancy