By Ann Marie King
When is it more than just morning sickness?
Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease marked by rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and dehydration due to unrelenting nausea and/or vomiting with potential adverse consequences for the mom-to-be and the newborn(s).
At the HER (Hyperemesis Education & Research) Foundation, we’ve heard from thousands of women seeking help, compassion, and hope. During what should be a joyful time, expectant moms suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum often feel trivialized and unsupported, even by the healthcare professionals treating them. Many report a lack of consistent, proactive medical treatment for their hyperemesis, while their symptoms worsen and health complications escalate. One of the most important factors in making it through an HG pregnancy – and one of the challenges – is a woman’s access to a healthcare team whose members are aware of the latest HG research and treatments, and who show compassion for HG patients. It is heartbreaking that many women are ready to terminate their wanted, planned pregnancies because they and their families are desperate for physical and emotional relief. The HER Foundation works to help these women find an HG-friendly physician and support network to avoid this outcome.
Advancing research for this often misunderstood condition is critical. To raise awareness, the HER Foundation has funded the first-ever HG genome project at UCLA, led by Harvard-trained geneticist Dr. Marlena Fejzo, herself an HG survivor and a member of HER’s Advisory Board. Together, we want to share the reasons why HG awareness, education and research are desperately needed:
FETAL HEALTH COST:
-HG babies are at increased risk for: low birth weight, being small for gestational age, and preterm birth.
-Prolonged maternal nausea is associated with behavioral and learning problems in children.
-In utero exposure to HG is linked to a 3.6-fold increased risk of emotional/behavioral disorders.
-15% of HG pregnancies are lost to therapeutic terminations, citing “no hope for relief,” and current treatments are not adequate to prevent termination of these planned, wanted pregnancies.
MATERNAL HEALTH COST:
-Complications including retinal detachment, eardrum damage, loss of fingernails due to malnutrition, rib fractures, esophageal tears, and some deaths have been reported in the U.S. from HG complications.
-Risk of developing Wernicke’s encephalopathy, a neurological syndrome caused by thiamine deficiency in HG pregnancies.
-Complications such as dehydration pose a serious threat for mothers without access to immediate medical care, including low-income women and those in developing nations.
-18% of women report full criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following an HG pregnancy.
-In 2009, the cost of inpatient treatment for HG in the U.S. was over $250,000,000.
-Additional costs of 225,000 HG emergency department visits in the U.S. annually.
-Costs for ER visits, home health care, and administration of more expensive treatments such as TPN and Zofran to treat HG are rising.
-Time lost from work for both the HG mom and her partner, childcare costs for siblings during a mom’s HG pregnancy, and costs due to long-term maternal and child health problems may be significant.
It’s our hope that the Duchess of Cambridge’s high-profile pregnancy will help to raise awareness of HG among both the general public and the maternal-child health community. Research funding is needed to better understand the causes of HG and to develop more effective treatments. And thousands of women suffering from HG each year continue to need support, information, and compassion.
To learn more about HG, and to participate in or help fund HG research, please visit www.HelpHER.org.
Ann Marie King is the Co-Founder of the HER Foundation. In 2003 she helped create the #1 website dedicated to helping HG women around the globe. Today the HER Foundation has volunteers in over 17 countries and has the largest database of HG women in the world dedicated to helping HG women through support, education and research. www.HelpHER.org