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By Dr Andi Horvath.
Strange as it may seem, Kate Middleton, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Darwin’s mother share something in common.
They all suffered extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
Obstetricians refer to the condition as hyperemesis gravidarum, but nobody is quite sure why it occurs. In fact, 85 per cent of pregnant women endure nausea and vomiting from around 9 to 14 weeks or even longer. But in about 3 out of 200 pregnancies, the nausea and vomiting can be so severe it can lead to potential problems with nutrition, fluid loss, and electrolyte balance.
“Luckily women like Kate live in a time when an intravenous (IV) drip is able to rehydrate them,” says Dr Penny Sheehan, a head obstetrician and researcher at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. (Five things no one ever tells you about pregnancy with Jamila Rizvi. Post continues after video.)
In the past, severe dehydration from hyperemesis was fatal, the most famous case being Charlotte Bronte who died in 1855, four months into her pregnancy.
There is also a link between hyperemesis and depression. In the past, it was thought that hyperemesis might be psychosomatic, suggesting some women were ‘in conflict with having a baby’ and the depression caused the nausea. Today we know the hyperemesis and the inability to function it causes actually leads to depression in 60 per cent of cases.
So what causes nausea and vomiting in pregnancy?
The exact cause is unknown. Research shows it is worse when the pregnancy hormone released by the placenta (human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)) reaches its peak level. While women carrying twins have higher levels of hCG and a higher incidence of hyperemesis, they are not always directly related. Women with the same level of hCG will not necessarily both suffer nausea.
Statistically, nausea and vomiting are also more common in women who have girls; so fetal oestradiol may have an influence but again this does not follow for every case.