Morning Sickness Can Be Severe, Relatively Unknown
February 26, 2013

Morning Sickness Can Be Severe, Relatively Unknown

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, made headlines recently when she was admitted to a UK hospital for extreme morning sickness associated with her pregnancy–a condition also known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

Although Kate´s condition provided a wealth of material for headline and late-night comedy writers, hyperemesis is a very serious affliction, with many sufferers needing intravenous treatment to restore hydration, electrolytes and vitamins.

“At worst, women may die if they go untreated. Many women find that the condition has an adverse effect on their work and family lives,” said Ã…se Vikanes, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and specialist in gynecology and obstetrics.

Vikanes recently completed her thesis on the mysterious affliction, which has not received much attention from the medical community.

“This is a relatively common affliction among women and even so it has been difficult to win understanding for the need for research,” said Vikanes, whose thesis was the first Norwegian paper on the subject in 70 years. “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.”

The condition is still quite mysterious, but there is little evidence to support the idea the cause of the condition is psychological.

In her thesis, Vikanes said there is wide ethnic diversity among sufferers of hyperemesis. She noted the condition could be genetic, with the risk being higher among women whose mothers also suffered from the sickness.

Interestingly, Vikanes found non-smokers with either an unusually high or low BMI show a higher predilection for severe nausea during pregnancy. For some unknown reason, smoking appears to provide protection from the sickness.

Statistics also show the risk of hyperemesis is also dependant on the mother´s age and the gender of the unborn, with young mothers carrying baby girls at the greatest risk.

Previous research has shown elevated levels of estrogen and the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), may play a role in contracting nausea.

Vikanes and her colleagues are now working to expand on their initial findings by identifying more risk factors for the condition. They also plan to examine the sickness´ short and long-term consequences for both the mother and child. The sickness could affect the mother´s diet during the pregnancy term and recent research has shown what the mother eats may be significant to the health of the child later in life.

In addition to studying potential consequences, Vikanes is also involved in examining the impact of nutrition, physical activity and a possible genetic basis, or “candidate genes,” for the condition. Candidate genes cause an individual to be predisposed to illness — in this case, hyperemesis.

“We need to learn more about this so we can help women who suffer from this condition to get better treatment,” Vikanes concluded.

To complete her thesis, Vikanes received funding from the Research Council of Norway, an organization focused on women´s health issues.