Her Royal Illness
Just last week the duchess of Cambridge announced her pregnancy early due to her hospitalization for hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). The disease is similar to morning sickness, with the major symptoms being nausea and vomiting, but generally is more dangerous due to its severity. If left untreated, it can lead to severe dehydration and malnutrition. Critical HG can lead to a loss of up to 5% of pre-pregnancy weight. Hence sufferers are strongly advised to eat the moment that their nausea subsides, and even suck on ice cubes if they cannot stand drinking.
The disease only affects about 1% of pregnant women and its manifestation has been put down to a mixture of both genetics and overall health. It has been suggested that development of the disease is due to an adverse reaction to hormonal changes in the body, specifically higher levels of the hormone hCG (human Chorionic Gonadotrophin). This hormone is produced by the developing placenta after conception and causes development of a gland called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum then produces higher levels of progesterone which tells the body to provide extra blood vessels and capillaries for the uterus to support growth of the foetus. Higher levels of hCG are therefore vital for the baby’s safety and not something that can be decreased in order to stop development of HG or morning sickness.
It has been postulated that both morning sickness and HG are evolutionary adaptations to help protect the foetus from harmful substances. Many of the potentially toxic chemicals are in strong smelling foods, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks, and consequently avoidance of these would be greatly beneficial to the baby. Because these substances are the ones most likely to cause nausea and vomiting during the pregnancy, the expectant mother is likely to avoid these foods and stick to the safe ones. This theory is supported by symptoms being most present from 6-18 weeks of pregnancy, when the foetus is also most susceptible to these toxic chemicals.
The disease is likely be beneficial to the baby, as it has been shown in scientific studies that women with morning sickness are less likely to miscarry than those without it, and women with vomiting are also less likely to miscarry than women with nausea alone. It seems there is not much that can be done to alleviate sufferers of HG, except to make sure they are eating and that their lives are as comfortable as possible whilst they are ill.