Can morning sickness be severe, and can it be eased?

Dr. Heather Hilkowitz explains what severe morning sickness is. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

Can morning sickness be severe, and can it be eased?

I suffered from morning sickness terribly. Only about 2 percent of the pregnant population will have it to the degree that I ended up with it and in that case there’s a medical term called hyperemesis gravidarum which describes that where as not only do you feel ill and have some morning sickness but it turns out to be an all day sickness that doesn’t go away not even later on in the pregnancy like it’s supposed to. So in these types of cases patients can drop large amounts of weight, their electrolytes can become unbalanced and you worry about not only the mom’s physical health but also the baby. Fortunately in my case it turned out well but it made me particularly cognizant to watch for this in my patients. For people who have really bad morning sickness, some of the foods that seem to be sought out more than others include cheeses; those seem to be tolerated relatively well, whereas a glass of milk or even a glass of water would be the last thing that would make someone comforted. Some string cheese or some strong citrus flavor...maybe a lime or a lemon...those kinds of thing that we typically would never think of taking a big bite out of a lime but if you’re pregnant and having a lot of trouble with morning sickness, that might be just the ticket to make you feel a little better. If you have really extreme nausea and vomiting, we want to know about that. So absolutely we want you to call us if it’s been even 12 hours of not being able to keep anything down. That’s an absolutely appropriate phone call to your doctor to help get some guidance of what to do next.


While morning sickness is a common condition during pregnancy, in some cases the symptoms can be elevated and prolonged, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and GynecologistsOff Site Icon (ACOG). Severe nausea and vomiting may occur in about three percent of pregnancies and can cause weight loss and dehydration, according to the ACOG.

Severe morning sickness is called hyperemesis gravidarum, according to the National Institutes of HealthOff Site Icon (NIH), and can be treated by your doctor and health care providers. Symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum include:

  • Constipation
  • Fainting
  • Headaches
  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea that’s severe and persistent, often leading to weight loss
  • Weakness

There are treatments for extreme morning sickness, and your doctor may conduct a physical examination and order certain tests to find a treatment that is right for you, according to the NIH.

Ask your doctor about the signs and symptoms of severe morning sickness.

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