Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness

‘I don’t know what hyperemesis is?’ ‘What is hyperemesis?’ I got asked that several times while pregnant. It was baffling how some health workers were not aware of what hyperemesis is or how dangerous it is to any pregnant woman going through it.

I didn’t know what hyperemesis was either until I experienced it. I thought it was just first trimester morning sickness but something didn’t feel right. Surely, vomiting 10-20 times everyday and stooling 10-20 times everyday can’t be just morning sickness. I got in touch with my Obstetrician who I have to say was/is the best. She understood and helped me every step of the way. I am one of the lucky ones to have such support medically. There are not many healthcare professionals who understand hyperemesis or how the impact of their unprofessional and insensitive attitude go a long way in destabilising and worsening the condition emotionally for the patient. Saying things like ‘it’s all in your head’, ‘pull yourself together’, not listening and insisting on ‘crackers and ginger biscuits just doesn’t cut it! If you are a healthcare professional, we thank you for your service but please educate yourself more on this very rare and overlooked condition to help patients more.

I was constantly dehydrated and had to be on IV every now and then for 9 months. I was always on admission in the hospital due to being very weak, not being able to talk without having gas in my mouth, unable to eat, losing weight and sometimes not strong enough to walk on my own. I was on very strong medications to help me through the ordeal.

It’s been said that some of the medications used to treat hyperemesis are the same medications given to cancer patients.

My body was sore from being constantly pricked with needles so much to the point that my veins had given up. I had tissued veins, I was pricked and prodded with needles at least 100 times or more from the start to finish of pregnancy, I lacked vitamins, my eye sight deteriorated, my oesophagus was sore and slightly torn from prolonged vomiting, the list goes on. All the while, I was worried I might miscarry or my baby would be in harm’s way but he was just fine and I have to say again, I was lucky to have an outstanding supportive team in the hospital I was cared for which is not something that a lot of black women experience.

The light at the end of the tunnel for me was/is my beautiful, beautiful boy. I am still not fully ready to delve much into my journey during pregnancy but I want to bring a much needed attention to the lack of awareness surrounding hyperemesis as well as some resources to inform you and encourage women going through this.

Thanks to charity organisations like pregnancy sickness support, there is more awareness, support and knowledge on what hyperemesis is.

There is still a a lot of research being done to understand what causes hyperemesis and what can really be done about it. I was one of the very few ones who experienced severe hyperemesis from the beginning to the end of my pregnancy and even postpartum. Some women have hyperemesis for just first trimester, some have it till second trimester and few have it through out pregnancy with symptoms persisting even after birth.

According to NORD,

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a rare disorder characterized by severe and persistent nausea and vomiting during pregnancy that may necessitate hospitalization. As a result of frequent nausea and vomiting, affected women experience dehydration, vitamin and mineral deficit and the loss of greater than 5% of their original body weight. 

Some Symptoms of Hyperemesis

  • Prolonged and severe nausea and vomiting
  • Dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include, feeling thirsty, tired, dizzy or lightheaded, not peeing very much, and having dark yellow and strong-smelling pee.
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive Saliva.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Ketosis

According to NHS,

In addition to feeling very unwell and tired, you might also feel:

  • Anxious about going out or being too far from home in case you need to vomit.
  • Isolated because you do not know anyone who understands what it’s like to have HG.
  • Confused as to why this is happening to you.
  • Unsure about how to cope with the rest of the pregnancy if you continue to feel very ill.
  • Because HG can cause dehydration, there’s also an increased risk of having a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis), although this is rare. If you are dehydrated and immobile, there is treatment that you can be given to prevent blood clots.

Mental Health

Hyperemesis is traumatic and having to live through that for however long it takes could be unnerving to say the least. I still can’t get myself to look at pictures and videos during my pregnancy. After pregnancy, I still struggled with issues with my stomach, diaphragm among other things due to how much trauma my body faced. Eating disorders, Food aversions, PTSD are some of the issues encountered by most women who go through hyperemesis. For those who have underlying mental health issues as I did, it could be more daunting. It is important that you get medical help. If you have preexisting mental health illness, discuss this with your obstetrician so they are aware and get on top of your mental health to avoid deterioration. My obstetrician was aware of my preexisting mental health issue and also understood the toll hyperemesis would have on me. She was on top of my mental health through out my pregnancy and even afterwards. This helped me a great deal.

According to PSS,

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and Hyperemesis Gravidarum can be very traumatic. It can put a severe physical and mental stress on a woman and those around her. The suffocation sensation that comes with unrelenting retching or vomiting can be quite traumatic, almost tortuous. Relationships can be strained. Women experiencing NVP or HG can feel a loss of control, as their lives turn upside down and are unable to care for themselves for a long period of time.
The fear, helplessness, and horror of HG may trigger traumatic symptoms, such as flashbacks, intrusive images, nightmare, numbness, depression, and a tendency to feel withdrawn. These symptoms can continue for some time after the baby is born

Did you Know?

Some did you know facts from PSS:

  • Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) and hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) can have a profound psychosocial effect on women and their families; some women become suicidal or can consider termination
  • Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not a normal part of pregnancy but a serious and dangerous complication of pregnancy.
  • Hyperemesis Gravidarum rarely ends at 12 weeks of pregnancy. It typically improves in the middle of pregnancy, but symptoms often last until birth.
  • Some women experienced suicidal thoughts after feeling isolated, depressed, anxious and unable to care for themselves and their families
  • 10% of sufferers terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies because of HG.
  • Use an holistic approach to assessing women, including perinatal mental health support, and recognise that no one measure, including ketones, can reliably assess severity of HG
  • Evidence is mounting from biological research that GDF15, the key driver of cancer cachexia, is linked to severe NVP
  • Women who have experienced severe NVP or HG in a pregnancy have a high chance of HG recurrence.

For more resources, information, support and help with hyperemesis, visit pregnancy sickness support.

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