Pregnancy is supposed to be such a magical and exciting time of your life. You should be glowing, radiant and thriving as you grow a tiny human. But what about when that’s not the case? What happens when this exciting time of your life actually becomes life threatening, when you risk going into renal failure from severe dehydration, when you’re throwing up so much you’re physically and mentally exhausted?
Hyperemesis Gravidarum gained some attention when the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton experienced Hyperemesis in her pregnancy. Unfortunately it’s still a widely misunderstood condition, with some doctors even refusing to treat it.
So here’s a coverage of just some of the things you don’t know about Hyperemesis Gravidarum, but really should.
1 – It’s not just ‘bad morning sickness’
Every time the media reported on Kate Middleton as having a ‘bad bout of morning sickness’ I wanted to throw something at the TV! Hyperemesis is not morning sickness. It’s like comparing a papercut with cutting your arm off. Sure, they’re both cuts and they both bleed but one is easily managed, the other is life threatening.
So often women suffering with hyperemesis will have friends say ‘oh I had that too, I just ate crackers and had ginger and got on with my day’. While the intention may be to reassure, this statement does anything but. If you’re able to ‘get on with your day’ you’re not suffering from hyperemesis.
2 – Ginger won’t help
Those of us who have experienced hyperemesis will attest, ginger does absolutely nothing (trust us, we’ve tried it all) and it hurts like hell to throw back up! The medications we are treated with are the same as those given to chemotherapy patients, and no we don’t want your opinion on whether or not you think they are safe. We discuss with our healthcare provider what is the best options for us and that’s all there is to it.
The same goes for recommendations of crackers, sea bands, peppermint tea, eating frequently, eating before getting out of bed, getting outside and exercise. Thank you but no thank you.
3 – It’s not a mental health condition
Although it can have incredibly detrimental effects on our mental health, hyperemesis itself is not a mental health condition. That is, that it is not caused by any level of depression, anxiety or any other psychological cause.
It is devastating when we hear that there are some ‘medical professionals’ around the world who suggest ‘treating’ hyperemesis with a holiday and reducing stress of everyday life. It’s like suggesting you should treat your broken leg with positive thinking and bed rest.
Stress goes hand in hand with hyperemesis. Women are often forced to leave their jobs, exhaust all of their sick pay and end up without an income. Add to that the cost of medication and doctor’s visits and the financial strain really starts to add up.
4 – Women can throw up in excess of 100 times a day
Do the math… that’s more than 4 times an hour, every single hour of the day. Women who suffer from hyperemesis are no strangers to excessive vomiting. In some cases, women vomit so frequently they start to form small tears in their esophagus which begin to bleed, resulting in ‘vomiting blood’. These tears rarely have a chance to heal due to the continued vomiting.
This results in women becoming severely dehydrated, malnourished, weak and often struggling to even stay awake.
5 – Our teeth become seriously damaged and cost a fortune to repair
Because we throw up so much stomach acid, it has a decaying effect on our teeth. During my first pregnancy, one of my teeth actually just broke off which resulted in a quick trip to the dentist. Since my first pregnancy I’ve had numerous trips to the dentist to repair the excessive damage caused by hyperemesis.
Unfortunately, this damage then recurs in subsequent pregnancies. Meaning more dentist trips and a small fortune to repair.
6 – We often require multiple hospital trips and stays
Due to the severe dehydration and inability to keep fluids down, we often require multiple hospital trips and sometimes even admissions. IV fluids are a godsend and can help us get through a day or two at a time.
For some women this isn’t enough and they require extensive hospital admissions to manage their dehydration, malnourishment and electrolyte imbalances. When your body becomes so severely depleted, your organs can begin to shut down, you can go into renal failure and start to throw arrhythmias that cause your heart to not function properly.
In serious cases women can require a nasogastric tube to help keep their stomach acid levels in check, IV fluids, medications and steroids, a PICC line or a central line (which carries a high risk of infection) due to their veins collapsing from so many IV’s and dehydration, as well as feeding tubes just to survive.
7 – Hyperemesis can cause PTSD and increase anxiety anytime we are unwell
Once you have experienced hyperemesis, the stress and the trauma of the condition stays with you. If you become unwell after having hyperemesis, it can trigger off anxiety and make you start to freak out about being so sick again. It’s a majorly traumatic time of your life and the effects are long lasting.
8 – No one knows what causes it
There’s speculation about hyperemesis being genetic, but neither my mother or grandmother experienced it and a lot of women are in the same situation. There’s debates about whether it’s to do with gut bacteria, liver function or if it’s just one of those things that some people get and other’s don’t.
It is believed to affect around 2% of pregnancies, however that number is more than likely higher due to lack of diagnosis. What is amazing is that on average, 3% – 10% of pregnant women suffer from Gestational Diabetes and yet the majority of people have heard of this condition. Such a small difference in incidents however such a massive difference in education.
9 – Your support means the world to us
Hyperemesis can be quite isolating. It can feel like your life is just going on around you and you’re not actually part of it because all you do is throw up and sleep. It’s exhausting and lonely. But, having your support means the absolute world to us.
You don’t have to make it better or offer advice, just sitting there with us can be the most amazing thing. Knowing we have someone close who will listen, without telling us to eat ginger biscuits, is just so reassuring and so comforting.
If you have a friend or family member who is suffering through hyperemesis, do whatever you can to help. She needs it. Even if it’s doing the dishes, sitting with her or taking her kids to the park. Whatever you can do, do it. She will be so incredibly grateful.
More information about Hyperemesis Gravidarum can be found here.