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26 February 2013
When morning sickness just won't quit

Nearly all women experience some nausea when pregnant, but about one percent may need hospital treatment to restore hydration, electrolytes, and vitamins intravenously.

Severe acute nausea (hyperemesis gravidarum) during pregnancy can be fatal, but very little is known about the condition, although hormonal, genetic, and socio-economic factors are all believed to play a role. Several previous studies have shown that elevated levels of estrogen and the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), may be involved.

Now, a new study by Norwegian researcher Åse Vikanes sheds much needed light on this condition. "This is a relatively common affliction among women and even so it has been difficult to win understanding for the need for research. Not too many years ago, people sincerely believed that the cause could be the woman's subconscious rejection of the child and the child's father. The attitude in part has been that the pregnant woman needs to pull herself together," Vikanes explains.

In her doctoral project, Vikanes demonstrated that there is wide ethnic diversity in the occurrence of hyperemesis. In addition, the risk is higher among women whose mothers suffered from the syndrome. Non-smokers with a BMI that is higher or lower than the norm also show a higher tendency to experience severe nausea during pregnancy, whereas smoking appears to provide protection from the nausea.

The occurrence of hyperemesis also appears to vary with the mother's age and the gender of the fetus, with younger mothers carrying baby girls at the greatest risk.

Vikanes and her colleagues are now working to identify more risk factors linked to hyperemesis and to examine possible consequences of the condition on mother and child. Recent research has actually shown that the mother's diet during pregnancy may be significant to the health of the child later in life. "We need to learn more about this so we can help women who suffer from this condition to get better treatment," Vikanes concluded.

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Source: Norwegian Institute of Public Health

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