What Causes Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a rare disorder during pregnancy.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (throwing up multiple times) is a rare disorder during pregnancy.

Nausea during pregnancy is normal and common. But if you’re throwing up multiple times a day, vomiting associated with ketosis and weight loss, and feel very sick, you might have a rare disorder called hyperemesis gravidarum. Only 0.5% to 2% of pregnant women get it.

This article explains what the illness is, causes, what the signs are, and how it’s treated. It also offers advice on how to make sure you get the calories and nutrition you need while you’re pregnant.

Causes and Risk Factors of Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Doctors don’t know why you get it. One theory is that it happens when pregnancy hormones, vitamin B, or thyroid hormones get off balance. Another guess is that infection, reflux, or even psychological issues can cause it. But experts aren’t sure if the condition causes these problems or vice versa. 

Though doctors don’t know the cause, there are a few things that increase the chance you’ll deal with this disorder during pregnancy. You're more likely to get it if:

  • You’ve had it during a previous pregnancy
  • You’re overweight
  • You’re pregnant with more than one baby
  • You’re pregnant for the first time
  • You have trophoblastic disease (abnormal cells growing in your uterus)
  • It runs in your family
  • You get migraines a lot

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Symptoms and Signs

This illness makes you throw up more than regular morning sickness. When you have it you typically:

  • Vomit three times a day or more
  • Lose 10 pounds or more from throwing up
  • Throw up so much that you feel dizzy or lightheaded
  • Get dehydrated from throwing up

You may also have:

  • Extra saliva in your mouth
  • Trouble sleeping
  • More intense sense of smell
  • Unpleasant taste in your mouth
  • Trouble telling flavors apart
  • Mood changes such as depression or anxiety
  • Irritability
  • A hard time concentrating
  • A racing heartbeat

This condition can come on suddenly within a couple of weeks or slowly over a few months. Most commonly, you get it before your 20th week of pregnancy.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Complications

In some cases, hyperemesis gravidarum can lead to more serious problems later. These include:

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Diagnosis

To find out if you have it, your doctor will ask you for your medical history. She’ll want to know about:

  • Recent surgeries or illnesses 
  • Family medical history
  • Allergies
  • Medications you’re taking
  • Habits and diet
  • Other symptoms

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Treatments

There isn’t a cure for hyperemesis gravidarum. But you can treat your symptoms. Your treatment will depend on how bad your symptoms are. 

The goal of treatment is to:

Your doctor may tell you to try:

In serious cases, you might need to stay in the hospital and get an IV. You may need:

  • Total parenteral nutrition, or TPN, a special solution of certain nutrients. You take it throughout your whole pregnancy. 
  • Anti-nausea medication. These are also available as suppositories you take at home. 

Your doctor may also suggest you talk to a mental health professional to deal with the mental and emotional part of the disorder. Therapy or medicine may help you.

Your doctor will keep a close watch on your weight and what’s in your urine to see how your treatment is working.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Diet Tips

You need to get enough calories and the right nutrition when you’re pregnant. To be sure you’re feeding yourself well, try to:

  • Eat when you’re hungry, no matter what time it is
  • Stick to bland foods
  • Wait until you’re not nauseous to take supplements
  • Avoid fatty foods
  • Choose high-protein snacks
  • Nibble on crackers when you wake up
  • Drink more carbonated beverages
  • Try herbal teas with peppermint or ginger to ease queasiness while you eat
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National Organization of Rare Disorders: “Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Hyperemesis Gravidarum (Severe Nausea & Vomiting During Pregnancy).”

Medscape: “Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”

Stanford Children’s Health: “Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”