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Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy

02 February 2024
Volume 32 · Issue 2


George F Winter discusses the latest research into the common pregnancy condition often referred to as ‘morning sickness’

According to Russell (2012), before the 1830s, the name most generally used for morning sickness was descriptive: ‘nausea and vomiting of pregnancy’, or ‘pregnancy vomiting’. By 1856, the new phrase ‘morning sickness’ had ‘become almost vernacular’, and by the mid-nineteenth century, morning sickness ‘lay, at times, on the borderline between the normal and pathological in medical discourse’ (Russell, 2012). However, Matthews et al (2015) note that morning sickness can occur at any time of the day, and that pregnant women experience nausea, vomiting and retching mostly in the first trimester, between 6 and 12 weeks, but which may continue to 20 weeks and persist after this time for up to 20% of women.

One of the most common features of pregnancy is nausea and vomiting, with nausea affecting 70–80% of the pregnant population, and additional vomiting experienced by around 50% (Heitmann et al, 2017). Hyperemesis gravidarum is less common, affecting 0.3–3% of pregnant women (Matthews et al, 2015) and is ‘characterised by excessive nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration, electrolyte and nutritional disturbances, which often necessitates hospitalisation’ (Heitmann et al, 2017). A Norwegian study of 712 women with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy aimed to gauge the impact of the condition (Heitmann et al, 2017). It was reported that over 25% of women with severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy considered terminating the pregnancy as a result of nausea and vomiting, and 75% considered avoiding future pregnancies (Heitmann et al, 2017).

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