Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is an uncommon condition characterized by frequent, persistent, and severe vomiting and nausea during pregnancy. As a result, you may be unable to take in a sufficient amount of food and fluids. It can cause a weight loss of more than 5% of your pre-pregnancy body weight. This can also cause dehydration and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Treatment may require hospitalization.
HG is a more severe form of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also called
morning sickness. Morning sickness affects anywhere between 70% to 80% of pregnant women. HG is estimated to occur in 0.5%-2% of pregnancies.
There are many theories about the causes of HG, but none have been confirmed. HG is a complex disease that is likely caused by many factors. Some of these include:
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)—hyperemesis most severe during period of highest hCG levels
—may be a result of hCG levels
- High levels of estrogen
- A multiple pregnancy
- Brain nausea-control-center sensitivity to pregnancy changes
The Brain May Be Cause of Nausea
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Factors that may increase your chance of developing HG include:
- History of HG in previous pregnancies
- Molar pregnancy—an abnormal mass made up of placental tissue which may or may not contain some fetal tissue
- Mother or sister with HG
- A multiple pregnancy
- Young maternal age
- No previous completed pregnancies
- First-time pregnancy
HG may cause:
- Severe and persistent vomiting, beginning 4 to 6 weeks after conception, peaking 9-13 weeks, and usually improving and ending 14-20 weeks
- Weight loss of greater than 5% of original, pre-pregnancy body weight
- Decrease in urine
- Rapid heartbeat
- Lightheadedness and fainting
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Weight measurement—to determine if you have lost weight
- Overall condition—ability to perform daily activities; psychological state of mind
Treating HG symptoms early in pregnancy can make you less sick in the long run and can decrease recovery time. Because HG is caused by many factors that vary among women, it is difficult to find a treatment that works for everyone. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Try to eat frequent, small meals, bland or dry foods, high-protein choices.
Reducing nausea, and thus allowing eating and drinking, will hasten recovery. Due to the risk of stating that a drug is safe for use during pregnancy, very few pharmaceutical manufacturers will say that their drugs are intended for a pregnancy condition like HG. However, doctors often recommend that women with HG take certain anti-nausea medications, balancing the potential benefits and risks. Talk to your doctor about the right medications for you.
A common and safe remedy is to take supplemental vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that first-line treatment of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy should start with pyridoxine with or without doxylamine. Pyridoxine has been found to be effective in significantly reducing severe vomiting.
In urgent visit situations, HG can be managed by IV fluids and vitamins. This can sometimes be done without hospitalization. Very rarely, some people require IV fluids throughout the entire pregnancy.
If you are unable to tolerate food by mouth, you may need to receive nutrition by vein. This is called parenteral nutrition. A special kind of catheter is placed in a large vein and liquid nutrition is given. This can sometimes be done without hospitalization.
In extreme cases, induced abortion may be considered.
If you are diagnosed with HG, follow your doctor's
Many of the conditions that lead to HG are not preventable. To help reduce your chance of nausea during pregnancy take these steps:
- Avoiding smells, foods, or other things that stimulate nausea
- Eating frequent small meals
- Not allowing yourself to get too hungry or too full
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ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) Practice Bulletin: nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
Obstet Gynecol. 2004;103(4):803-8014. Reaffirmed 2011.
Morning sickness. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq126.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130806T1444487894. Accessed August 6, 2013.
Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated Updated April 10, 2013. Accessed August 6, 2013.
Quinlan JD, Hill DA. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.
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Understanding hyperemesis. Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.helpher.org/hyperemesis-gravidarum. Updated April 18, 2013. Accessed August 6, 2013.
Last reviewed August 2013 by Andrea Chisholm; Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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