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Journey into the world of hyperemesis gravidarum...
11Sep 14

Hey Media! It's NOT Acute Morning Sickness

The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant with her second child, and like the vast majority (80%) of women who have a history of hyperemesis gravidarum (pronounced hi-per-em-ee-sis gra-vi-dah-rum) she is suffering the condition again. My entire blog describes the misery of hyperemesis gravidarum and I wrote back in 2012 about how this might be for the Duchess so I won't rehash all that here.

Caitlin Dean on This Morning ITV

What I would like to address is the appalling way the media are discussing the condition... Acute Morning Sickness! Or in fact during this morning's BBC Birmingham's radio interview they didn't even bother with “Acute” they just said she was having time off duties for morning sickness... which I promptly corrected.

“But we can't pronounce it... hyper... hyper... hyper what?” I've have numerous journalists and presenters say to me. What so because you can't pronounce it you'll just say she has something else instead? Great, that's like saying “Oh we can't say encephalitis so we'll just say so and so has a bit of a headache”.

Why is “Acute Morning Sickness” so incorrect when describing hyperemesis gravidarum?

The term Acute implies that it's a short lived condition. Hyperemesis is not short lived. It is incredibly rare to have improvement before 14 weeks (which is quite a long time when you're being sick constantly) and most women won't see any improvement before 20 week, that's 5 long months. But even for those who have improvement at 5 months, only 40% actually recover at that point. 60% are still having symptoms right up to Joanne pearson reality of hyperemesis gravidarumdelivery. And that doesn't even begin to address the long term physical and emotional problems women can experience.

So far from an Acute condition hyperemesis gravidarum is very much a prolonged and even chronic condition throughout pregnancy.

And then there is the “morning sickness” part of all this. Morning sickness is a cute, almost nostalgic term for a part of pregnancy which most women kind of look forward to... a bit of mild nausea and possibly the odd bout of vomiting for the first few weeks. Where the morning part comes from is a mystery to me as it can occur at any time of the day or night. However, it's a normal part of pregnancy and can be a sign of a healthy developing foetus (although that in itself isn't always true and it can increase the devastating impact for women who have felt sick for 8+ weeks only to discover at their scan that the baby is not viable).

So what should we call it? Well, the normal condition should be referred to as pregnancy sickness or nausea and vomiting of pregnancy because, like I say, it has nothing to do with the morning. And when it comes to the condition the Duchess has we should call it hyperemesis gravidarum – because that is what it is. If you really really don't want to call it that then you could at a push call it “very severe pregnancy sickness” or it's common abbreviation "HG", surely that's not hard to say?

But what harm does it do to misrepresent the Duchess's condition as Acute Morning Sickness?

The answer to that is A LOT! Belittling hyperemesis gravidarum to a normal, almost endearing, part of pregnancy does a lot of harm to those suffering what is in fact a serious and dangerous complication of pregnancy. It reduces the truth of the women's suffering, the lives ruined and the babies lost to the condition to a bit of fun, fixed by ginger!

When the media talk about morning sickness cures in the context of the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy it perpetuates the myths and old wives tales that prevent women receiving the treatment they need, it adds to the suffering and ultimately contributes to the loss of vast numbers of pregnancies every year.

So what can the media do to help?

Stop talking about morning sickness in relation to the Duchess of Cambridge because that is not what she has. Report on hyperemesis gravidarum because that is what she has. Stop getting doctors on TV who don't know about hyperemesis gravidarum to discuss morning sickness cures because you are causing harm.

It's appalling that registered doctors are seen to be speaking with authority about utter nonsense, like “ginger biscuits” (they are ginger flavoured... they don't actually contain any ginger!) or ginger tea. They've even Caitlin Dean ginger hyperemesis gravidarumstated that they try to avoid medication in early pregnancy and that every pregnancy is different, both in the context of hyperemesis gravidarum. Far from simply being untrue and non-evidenced base, both statements can cause significant harm to women with a history of hyperemesis who need to plan carefully for early medical intervention to manage the condition.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is an historically under recognised and marginalised condition for which women have had to fight at their most vulnerable and miserable time to get the treatment they need. That is despite the fact that it used to be the leading cause of death in early pregnancy and is still a massive cause of maternal morbidity and foetal loss.

It's time the media dropped the morning sickness nonsense and started to report on hyperemesis gravidarum, which the Duchess of Cambridge is suffering from. Let's address what does and doesn't help women suffering the condition, lets address the current poor state of care in the UK for HG and the fact that all women should be treated in their homes for it where possible, whether they are royal of not. Lets address the severity of this overlooked condition: speak to the women who nearly died from it (I know plenty of them); speak to the women who can't have a second child like the Duchess of Cambridge, because they don't have the medical or social support to face nine months of severe illness (I know plenty of them); speak to the women who lost their babies to this condition (I know plenty of them).

It's awful that Catherine is suffering, my heart aches for the awful situation she is going through and I hope she is getting the support and care she needs to survive this without the long term effects so many women experience. I really sincerely feel for her. However, this is an opportunity to improve the world for millions of normal women around the globe who also suffer this and don’t have access to proper care and treatment. Women who are faced with stigma and discrimination over the condition. Women who can't have more children because the condition could kill them.

Report it accurately and we could make the world a better place for all of these women. Report it badly, refer to it as morning sickness, perpetuate the myth that ginger cures it and you are hammering the nails in the coffins of the babies that have died from it and crushing any hope that women hold of their serious illness being recognised for what it is and helped.

So please British Media... journalists, presenters, celebrities, news desks, editors... it is NOT acute morning sickness... it is Hyperemesis Gravidarum.


For accurate information about hyperemesis gravidarum check out these links:

My FAQ section

My Best Bits 

Pregnancy Sickness Support - National charity supporting women with the condition

Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation - American charity supporting women with the condition

For interviews, quotes or pictures please contact me.

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Beyond amazing! Sums up exactly how the whole thing makes me feel!
Tracy, 11th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Glad you like it, my mission is to give the condition a voice :)

Reading this made me cry. I think with all the newborn whirl I'd forgotten how awful It was! I got accused of wanting to "be like Kate"!
Becca, 11th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Goodness me... "wanting to be like Kate!"... seriously, what an offensive and ignorant comment! Glad you survived and have your newborn now. Try to take the time to enjoy them x

Here here!! At last! This is everything that needs to be said and always tried to explain! Thankyou!
Eve, 11th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Glad you like it, I try to represent :)

I had it. Even the ER doctors were ignorant and asked if I was just being dramatic and making myself throw up. Then the witnesses me trying to keep down water. I wish people were better educated about how serious the condition is.
Jen, 11th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Slowly but surely we are educating and spreading awareness :) x

Tears of laughter looking at your photo fighting with ginger and wrist bands. By far the best written article I have seen on the subject! X
Mummy Whiskers, 11th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Thanks Katrina :) x

Wonderful piece. Thank you. And for anyone reading comments, HG doesn't always end at delivery. Dinner women remain medicated postpartum and spend years battling nausea and vomit for weeks, even years after delivery.
Suzanne, 11th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Glad you like it, thanks for the comment :) x

I am so pleased that this awful problem is finally being highlighted. After suffering with HG with both my pregnancies we longed for another child and decided to prepare ourselves for to do it for the final time. The HG got worse with each pregnancy and the third time was horrendous. It started at 6 weeks and I was hospitalised straight away, the amount of ketones in my urine was at its maximum and me and my husband had to make the most heart breaking decision to terminate the pregnancy. I now feel as though I have been told we cannot have any more children due to this and I only wish a cure could be found.
Olivi, 19th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Oh Olivi, I'm so sorry you had to face such a heartbreaking decision despite your preparation. Take time to grieve and access support on the online forums where you can contact other women who have been through the same traumas. and both have forums you can join. x 

Thank you! Great blog post. I had HG through almost all of my pregnancy. It was a dreadful shock. I battled it day after day and I wanted to lob ginger at anyone who recommended it to me. I think it's hard to really truly understand this condition unless you've been through it but people would not properly 'get it' when I said I couldn't even keep sips of water down (ice helped me in the end). I'm now terrified of having another baby, even though I want another and time isn't on my side. I do wish doctors, of all people, would be more clued up about the condition, especially those on TV. Please please don't call it morning sickness, yes, that isn't pleasant but HG is just horrific.
Becca, 20th September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Hi Becca, Indeed the TV doctors really need to wise up as some of the reports I've watched have been downright unethical, let alone offensive to sufferers. Please do get in touch with Pregnancy Sickness Support if you want information about trying again. X

Omg I need to meet this lady who wrote this article. .... Someone that actually understands! I've never been able to talk about all 3 of my hg experiences but I wish I could as I'm still mentally suffering.
michelle souter, 21st September 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Hi Michelle, I'm very meetable if you live in the UK. I'll be at the Pregnancy Sickness Support conference in October, hopefully with copies of our book to sell too :) Giving a voice to women who feel unable to talk about the condition themselves is very much part of what I aim to do. I'm glad you feel represented by my words X

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Hyperemesis Gravidarum - The Definitive Guide by Caitlin Dean

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About Me

I am mother of three beautiful children and wife to a fantastic and supportive husband. I am a nurse, a farmer and a trustee for Pregnancy Sickness Support. I love working hard and spending time with my kids.

About this blog

Information and support for pregnancy sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum. Views are my own and do not represent those of any other organisation. Information provided here should not be a substitute for medical advice. My aim is to raise awareness and encourage sufferers to know they are not alone.

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MAD Blog Awards UK 2015