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Hyperemesis Gravidarum – When It’s Not Just Morning Sickness Anymore…

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not just morning sickness. It is a debilitating illness that affects a small number of pregnancies in a massive way.

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As many of you are aware, I suffered with severe Hyperemesis Gravidarum during my pregnancies, a condition which I believe contributed to the miscarriage of our second child. I have been trying for some time to put into words how to describe this condition. I haven’t been able to convey the message I wanted to so I asked Tiffany, a fellow Hyperemesis Gravidarum Survivor, to help me out. Tiffany is incredible – not only is she an amazing survivor, she now helps as many women as she can and is an active member in our Hyperemesis Survivors group on Facebook. Tiffany is often the first to offer words of support and encouragement and after reading her story, I have a whole new level of respect for this woman. 

Hyperemesis is hard for our partners as well, often they are left feeling helpless and don’t understand what we are going through. My gorgeous partner Steve has written A Husband’s Guide to Hyperemesis to share his experience and what he see’s as being important for the men in our lives to know. 

Here is Tiffany’s story. I hope it offers some insight into the severity of Hyperemesis Gravidarum. 

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not just morning sickness. It is a debilitating illness that affects a small number of pregnancies in a massive way.

Morning sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum are not the same thing.

I keep seeing articles everywhere about Princess Kate being pregnant again and having “severe morning sickness”. It drives me crazy.

Kate does not have morning sickness – she has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). HG is not morning sickness. Yes it is a pregnancy condition that involves vomiting and nausea but that is where the comparisons end.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is by definition severe and un-retractable nausea and vomiting in pregnancy that causes dehydration that often requires IV fluids, malnutrition which can cause damage to organs and multiple deficiencies. It is a serious illness that can cause permanent damage to both mother and baby. Before IV fluids it directly killed about 10% of sufferers. Even now many sufferers are dismissed as having just morning sickness and given an array of morning sickness tips even by medical professionals. Often diagnosis only happens after repeated hospital admissions for fluids.

Please stop calling HG morning sickness as that is an insult to those who have endured HG.

HG is a condition that affects a small percentage of pregnancies – statistics suggest it is somewhere below 5%. HG pregnancies have a high incidence of complications and terminations (even of wanted babies as people cannot cope with the HG and the implications it has on their whole life). HG takes a toll mentally, physically and financially. It is a severe and chronic condition that impacts family and friends who watch helplessly as their loved one suffers.

Most HG sufferers cannot work (during their pregnancy) and there are mounting medical bills and expensive medications to attempt to treat the symptoms. Drugs like Ondansetron which is an anti-nausea medication, often given to chemotherapy patients (but not on the PBS for HG), can help some ladies but there is a huge expense along with a lot of judgment from others for taking medications during pregnancy.

Sufferers often find that symptoms do not ease at all till around week 20 – that does not mean you feel well again- for many it means being able to tolerate and keep down fluids and food enough to barely function – still battling with 24/7 nausea (the like of which most people only experience briefly during bouts of food poisoning or gastro except with HG this can last all pregnancy – imagine having gastro nausea and vomiting for 9 months (with no relief) and you may begin to understand how tormenting HG really is.

My HG is severe- it is a living hell.

I began vomiting at 3 weeks before the tests would even tell me I was pregnant. At first I thought I had gastro even though hubby and I had been trying and wanting to have a baby.

Weeks 7-19 for me include vomiting 100+ times a-day, vomiting bile and my own saliva…. I could not keep down any food or fluids from week 7-19. My first trip to hospital at the beginning of week 7 was because I was so dehydrated I nearly passed out.

The triage nurse took one look at me and admitted me right away. I was sent home the following day, which was a Friday and ended up back at the hospital Monday Morning severely dehydrated again – this time I was hospitalized for 8 days. They had me on around the clock fluids and checking ketones every bathroom trip. I was already badly malnourished and had high ketones the entire time.

I began this pregnancy overweight at 80kgs which was a blessing as at the height of my illness.

Every time I tried to even take a sip of water or even a tiny ice chip to dampen my mouth I would vomit for 2 hours after. When I went home at week 9 they thought they had my HG under control with medications. I was taking Zofran wafers (at the time they cost $10 a tablet) and other medications. I could still barely keep down anything and even the smell of most things would cause me to vomit.

The Zofran stopped working for me before the end of week 9 and I was back to feeling dehydrated very quickly. I had 2 ambulance rides to hospital over weeks 9 and 10. Each time I was admitted quickly and given fluids and then admitted overnight then sent home in the morning.

Just before week 10 after one of the overnight stays I returned home for under 2 hours and began vomiting blood and bile and some phlegmy green stuff that I later found was stomach lining. I took the vomit dish with me and went back to emergency. The triage nurse rolled her eyes at me and began to dismiss my symptoms as mere morning sickness and then I showed her the vomit.

At that stage the look on her face changed to shock and she called a colleague and rushed out the door to take me through. I was admitted again. The following day I had a visit from an OBGYN they had called in and then they said that my pregnancy was too high risk for this hospital to manage and I had to be transferred.

It was Queen’s Birthday Public Holiday Monday of 2009 and I was transferred by ambulance to another hospital better able to manage my condition (I was 10 weeks pregnant). My chosen OBGYN visited me and I was then admitted to the critical care ward.

Women like me risk organ failure to have a baby – I was in critical care (yet the morning sickness tips from all continued).

I learnt how strong the will to survive can be during those weeks I would be in hospital over 10 weeks not including labour. During my 9 week stay in critical care I required TPN and IV fluids and vitamins (via IV and injections)- had 4+ injections a day and central lines through my jugular to keep my baby and I alive. I required blood tests every couple of days and blood glucose tests multiple times a day.

Multiple medications that I hated having to take but it was a battle to survive yet my HG was medication resistant meaning the meds did not help me at all. I felt like a pin cushion.

During my critical care stay I they tried all the medications some were class C- a couple were even untested for pregnancy but they were still worth a try because my HG was so severe I had deficiencies that were dangerous in pretty much everything.

At week 12 I had lost a lot of weight and they were now weighing me daily and recording it in my charts. I was running out of veins for drips to go into and my drips were occluding very soon after they were inserted and my nutrient levels were all dangerously low.

My OBGYN at some point in weeks 10-12 had come to talk and told me I needed specialists to care for me as in all his years he had never seen a case of HG like mine and he was at a loss at what to do for me.

He found a maternal and foetal medicine specialist and a liver and kidney specialist who visited me a number of times a week to monitor all my levels. I had jaundice and they were really worried. I was told I may have kidney damage or being at risk of liver or kidney failure.

My skin and the whites of my eyes were bright yellow at this stage, my cheeks were sunken and I looked like a terminally ill patient- I know this because that was what strangers who saw me asked me often. The shocked look when I told them “no not cancer I am pregnant” was one of disbelief.

Just trying to talk caused me to vomit. I could smell the food cart as it came off the lift half a floor away and would run to the ensuite and stuff towels along the gaps in the door where I would stay for the entire meal time still able to smell the food that I so desperately wanted to be able to eat to nourish me and my growing baby- yet even the dampened smell of it would have me vomiting violently over and over till my entire body ached. There were times where death would have felt like a blessing in those dark days.

I had veins collapsing as they had had drip fluids run too many times in such a short time so they had to find other ways to give me the life giving fluids.

Gastro-nasal tubes were inserted – twice in 2 days- this is a traumatic experience when you are wide awake and having tubes inserted – it is uncomfortable and there are many breaks while you vomit and choke (I have feeling nausea just writing about this). Both times the Dr. left the room and I had vomited the tubes back up in under 10 minutes. They needed to get my ketones from malnutrition under control and I had to have TPN to administer.

The next thing they tried was PICC line as my veins could not handle any more drips. I was taken to Intensive care where they set up a sterile environment and gave me a local anaesthetic and a sedative and told me I had to stay super still so they could insert the PICC line. This is a thin flexible tube the is inserted in the bend of the arm and then threaded through a vein un into the main vein and ending just near the heart. The bigger veins are more able to handle the TPN and fluids, which can cause damage to smaller veins and capillaries.

Unfortunately the PICC line gave me chest pains and had to be removed under 6 hours after insertion. At this stage my doctors were at a loss and I was taken off all IV while they tried to figure it out. I was still only 12 weeks pregnant and after 2 days when they weighed me I had lost 30kgs from my pre pregnancy weight. This was about 35% of my total pre pregnancy body weight. I also showed the first signs of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and required daily injections of thiamine, my vitamins were all depleted and my digestive system had pretty much shut down as it had nothing to process.

I was risking organ failure and death if they did not find a solution. My doctors were discussing what to do that could save me and still not harm my much wanted baby.

My doctors decided the only choice left was to insert a central line. This is usually done in surgery but this carries a lot of risks for baby. I had to have this inserted in intensive care while wide awake with just a dose of local anesthetic – that experience will haunt me all my days as I felt, not pain, but certainly discomfort as they cut into my jugular to insert tubes – I had to stay still as these sit around 1cm from your heart.

I had no choice as I desperately wanted to keep my baby and wanted her to be healthy and these tubes were my lifelines.

The Central line worked and finally they were able to give me fluids and TNP. I had these for the remaining weeks in hospital till my HG settled a little at week 19 – enough to be able to tolerate bland foods and fluids enough to keep my baby and I alive. I was finally allowed home by week 20 – still vomiting often a few times a day and still with 24/7 nausea.

HG is a traumatic experience- a chronic and debilitating condition. There is none of the joy and glowing pregnancy that people talk about. Morning sickness tips do not help HG – they serve only to frustrate and anger mums going through this terrible and debilitating illness.

They still do not know the cause of HG but one thing is for certain- HG is not morning sickness.

I am still battling with the after effects of my HG (including PTSD and severe reflux) and my little girl is 5 years old now. Long-term impacts of HG include depression and multiple health issues. My husband also bears the psychological scars from our HG experience. It was traumatic and life changing. Our daughter will be an only child because of it.

If anyone thinks they (or someone they know) may have HG there are support groups of Facebook and this is a good place to find information: https://www.helpher.org/

Please share this post so we can spread the word that Hyperemesis Gravidarum is not just morning sickness, it is a very real and debilitating condition. Leave your comments below to offer support and encouragement or to tell us a little about your story. 

10 Comments

  1. I just read this article (via Pinterest) and it resounded so deeply to me. I had a difficult pregnancy and was terribly sick and nauseous from 7 weeks to about 5 months. I went to the e.r. twice and was on Zofran but never diagnosed.

    Even on Zofran I still felt awful. I became depressed and despised being pregnant. I think if I had known there was a real medical diagnosis I could have sought help and support. I felt so alone. It seemed like everyone but me had perfect pregnancies. I delivered my son, Robert, but after I suffered from severe postpartum depression. Added to that Robert had reflux that prevented him from sleeping longer than 2 hours at a time and for ten months he was very pukey. Finally after our third doctor he was put on Prevacid and slept through the night. The lack of sleep for all of us made my emotions even worse. To this day I am still being treated for anxiety and depression and have mixed feelings about being a parent at times – which I think stems from the trauma of the pregnancy and postpartum.

    Your story sheds some new light on the way I was and felt (and feel). My son is going on 7 yrs now and I love him and am proud of him but still would never want to go through that experience again. So when I meet other moms and they ask is Robert my only child I feel a little quilt but also tell them I had a rough pregnancy. Sorry to leave such a long reply. It is just nice to really relate to your experience and know I wasn’t alone.

    1. Hi Yvonne,
      My daughter Molly also had silent reflux. In fact babies having reflux after mums have suffered HG seems to be quite common. It adds to the exhaustion and trauma for many. Big hugs. We also have a Hyperemesis Gravidarum Survivors group on Facebook if you would like to join. I just found being able to talk to others who understand even after really helps- it is such an isolating things to go through. https://www.facebook.com/groups/627340487279132/

  2. How awful that you had to go through that! I also had HG during my pregnancy, resulting in hospitalization and having visiting nurses come to my home to hook up IVs. They taught my husband how to change the IV bag, which made him queasy. While I didn’t have it as severe as you did, I definitely feel for you. I lost 26 pounds by the time I was 5 months pregnant, and even when I was 9 months along, I weighed less than when I got pregnant. Our daughter ended up passing away at age 2 from a genetic disease, which is apparently unrelated to the HG. We ended up foster-adopting four children. Between the HG and the risk of another genetic disease, it just didn’t make sense to go through that again. I wish more people knew how difficult it is to go through this. I can’t tell you how many times people suggested home remedies and gave me advice to stop the sickness — kind of irritating since none of it worked.

  3. I’m going through the sickness currently and I desperately want to die. I’ve even researched abortion clinics. We planned this pregnancy but I can’t face another day feeling this way. I’m a little over 9 weeks.

    1. Oh lovely please seek some help – and if you don’t find a doctor who takes you seriously keep looking. You’re in the thick of it at the moment – weeks 7 – 12 are usually the worst. There’s a ton of Facebook support groups for women with Hyperemesis too and they are amazing. They can recommend doctors and hospitals close by that can help as well as advice on drugs that have or haven’t worked for them. I completely understand how you feel and I promise you, you aren’t alone. xo

  4. I had HG with both my pregnancies. It’s the worst ever. I never knew until now the risks of HG. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant and honestly I fear for that first trimester. My kids are 8 years apart and with both my sickness ended at about 20 weeks. With both pregnancies my doctor put me on what she called “early maternaty leave” I had to stay home the first trimester due to HG. I too took a few trips to the ER for IV fluids. And those trips weren’t cheap. I returned to work soon after The HG was over. Thankfully after that horrible 1st trymester I felt great. I was finally able to eat and drink and keep it down. But I know everyone is different. I’ve never met or heard of anyone that suffered from HG so I felt alone and at time less of a woman because no one I knew had ever experience HG and I thought I was not able to handle what ppl called “morning sickness” I would hate it when people would say “suck it up” “nothing is wrong with you” “that’s a sign of your baby being healthy” the list goes on… Honestly I had never heard of anyone having HG till Princess Kate. When I read on a mag that she too sufferer from HG, not to be mean but I felt sort of happy to finally know someone was going through what I too go through. I felt that I was no longer alone so I guess that’s why I felt happy (for lack of a better word). But now after reading your article and all the post, I no longer feel alone. 🙂

    1. I promise you Christina you certainly are not alone. When you do fall pregnant (or even now) be sure to join a HG support group on Facebook – they are absolutely amazing. I didn’t know I had HG with my first pregnancy either – and I was pregnant at the same time as Princess Kate!! They just talked about her ‘severe morning sickness’. It’s kind of sad because the media could have really used both of her pregnancies as an opportunity to educate the general public about HG but it didn’t happen. Hopefully with posts like mine and other women sharing their story too HG will be something more people will understand… All my fingers are crossed for your next pregnancy to be HG free.

  5. Hi there
    I just read your blogs and it brought me to tears and brought back many bad memories . I have two children and with my second suffered HG a lot worse then my first .i spent a bit of time in hospital which was horrible being away from my husband and daughter . I felt so alone and still till this day do not know how I got through my pregnancy. The nausea and vomitting daily was so hard to get through and none of the medication helped.my first hospital visit I was there for a week in iv fluids and iv antiemetics and still couldn’t eat or drink. Losing weight daily . The Doctors even talked to me about abortion but all I have wanted my whole life was to be a mummy . i had weekly counseling right up until my baby was born as I got so depressed being stuck in hospital or at home in bed isolated as even standing up or being around my husband and daughter made me sick. Everything!!!!and I mean everything made me nauseous and I missed my daughter and husband but even they smelt different .
    I felt like No one understood me or believed me when I felt so ill. All the Ideas to treat “morning sickness” did not work and just made me angry as I tried my hardest to treat it and be well but nothing worked .
    I hated how much iv fluids were pumped into me as I was always dehydrated and had high ketones . Nothing seemed to work. I Finally came right about 20 weeks and could eat and drink then again at 28 weeks was hospitalized again with dehydration and nausea. I took many antiemetics right up until my son was born.
    I am still traumatized by the experience of pregnancy but now I have my two beautiful babies it was all wort it . Even thought thinking about it gives me nightmares and makes me very sad I never enjoyed my pregnancies . I just have to count myself lucky and be thankful I can even have a baby !

    Thinking of all the HG sufferers out there and thank you for sharing

    1. I am so sorry you had to experience the horribleness that is HG. I wish so much it didn’t exist because nobody ever deserves to go through the physical and emotional abuse that HG is. I am so glad to hear you had counselling available throughout your pregnancy, what an amazing support, so many people tend to forget to look past the physical symptoms and see that it is emotionally debilitating too. I wish you and your beautiful little family all the best. xo

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