If you can’t stand to eat at all or throw up vigorously for more than 24 hours, or you’re sick to the point that you’re losing weight, it’s important to contact your health care provider right away. While some nausea and vomiting is common during pregnancy– about 85 percent of moms-to-be experience it at some point — it can turn dangerous. And the longer chronic nausea goes untreated the harder it is to treat. If you find your health care provider isn’t taking it seriously, get an opinion from a different doctor.
Hyperemisis gravidarum is the medical term for “throwing up too much while pregnant.” The extreme kind is when it’s so unrelenting that you can’t stand to eat anything and can’t hold down fluids. Less than one percent of moms-to-be suffer the worst kind.
If you do have HG you’ll likely be given an IV of fluids, electrolytes and nutrients to rehydrate you. Some women are given tablets or a pump of ondansetron (Zofran), an IV line that stays in and is attached to you that gives a continuous dose of medication. The drug can help soothe the symptoms to let you eat and hydrate.
The exact cause of HG isn’t known. There seems to be a genetic component (if your mother or sister had it, you’re more likely to as well). Having a high-fat diet, expecting twins or multiples, epilepsy and/or having pre-pregnancy nausea or food cravings appears to increase your risk. While it was once thought to be psychological (eg. women stressed about getting pregnant or not really wanting to be pregnant are more likely to have it), more modern research has shown this is not the case.
Unfortunately, if you experience HG you have about a 75 percent chance of also experiencing it with future pregnancies. You may be able to prevent this, though, by taking extra vitamins before you conceive and in early pregnancy. Most women who get it begin to experience it at around 6 weeks after their last period (a month after conception) and find it goes away by week 20, but other women are less lucky and experience it throughout the whole pregnancy.
The Hypermesis Education and Research Foundation offers links to support groups and other resources on their web site and has support forums.