Distinguishing between common morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum

Pregnancy is a life-changing event like none other. Some women pass the nine months with relative ease and hardly a symptom in sight. More often, however, at least one of the tell-tale symptoms of pregnancy captures the attention of an expectant mom during some or all of her pregnancy. Of all the various ways in which pregnancy makes itself known, none is perhaps more infamous or irksome than morning sickness.

What is morning sickness?

Morning sickness, also referred to as ‘nausea and vomiting of pregnancy,’ or NVP, is a common pregnancy symptom. Despite what the name suggests, morning sickness can occur at any time of day and for some women, persists throughout the day.

Morning sickness can present with isolated nausea or vomiting or with both symptoms in combination. It is caused by the increased level and types of hormones circulating in the body during placental development. Many physicians view the occurrence of NVP as a sign of a healthy pregnancy with a placenta that is well-established. This idea can perhaps give comfort to the women who suffer from morning sickness in more than one-half of all pregnancies.

How long does morning sickness last?

Morning sickness is most common during the first trimester of pregnancy, which lasts for 13 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual cycle. The onset of NVP is usually around week six of pregnancy.

Some women also experience morning sickness in the third trimester of pregnancy, however, this tends to be less severe than that experienced in earlier pregnancy.

Most women who experience first trimester morning sickness will find the symptoms resolve completely by about week 14 of pregnancy. In some cases, however, the symptoms persist for the duration of the pregnancy. While often distressing and unpleasant, persistent NVP does not pose a threat to the health of the pregnancy as long as the mother is able to maintain adequate food and fluid intake.

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of persistent morning sickness that poses a threat to the health and well-being of a pregnant woman and her child. Rather than by any strict time-frames, hyperemesis gravidarum is diagnosed according to the clinical consequences of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. Specifically, hyperemesis gravidarum is morning sickness that is sufficiently severe to cause electrolyte imbalances and dehydration due to inadequate intake of food and fluids.

How is hyperemesis gravidarum managed?

Although no specific treatments are available to prevent or reverse hyperemesis gravidarum, therapies are available to manage the symptoms and consequences of the condition. At the onset of hyperemesis gravidarum, many physicians recommend bed rest and a focus on increased food and fluid intake. Many patients find that fresh air also helps to reduce symptoms.

In some cases, treatment of the consequences of hyperemesis gravidarum requires hospitalization. In-patient therapies often required to combat the dehydration and malnutrition due to hyperemesis gravidarum include administration of intravenous fluids and feeding via nasogastric tube. In some cases, drugs to alleviate nausea and vomiting may also be administered.

Choosing a nausea and vomiting treatment specialist

Although intended to be informative, this article cannot replace professional medical advice. If you or someone you love is concerned about pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting, please contact a qualified medical professional near you.

Consider choosing Digestive Care Physicians for your gastrointestinal health care needs. Our care team includes four board certified physicians, a physician assistant, and a nurse practitioner. In addition to our wide range of medical experience, the Digestive Care Physicians team is also proud to be able to provide services in a variety of languages. Dr. Ranvir Singh speaks English and Hindi. Dr. Parikh speaks English, Gujarati, and Hindi. At the Lawrenceville location, Dr. Nguyen and Nurse Practitioner Vanessa both speak Vietnamese and English.

Digestive Care Physicians has four locations including Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Cumming, and now Lawrenceville. We also welcome patients from the surrounding areas such as Roswell, Milton, Duluth, Canton, Suwanee, Sandy Springs, Marietta and beyond.

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