New Study Reveals Cause of Morning Sickness in Pregnancy and Potential Treatment

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For the millions of women worldwide who have endured morning sickness in pregnancy, relief may be on the horizon as medical researchers claim to have discovered the root cause of this common yet debilitating condition.

Morning sickness, including the severe form known as hyperemesis gravidarum, can lead to nausea and vomiting so intense that it necessitates hospitalization, posing risks to both the mother and baby due to dehydration and malnutrition.

Recent headlines have drawn attention to hyperemesis gravidarum, with notable figures like Princess Kate Middleton and comedian Amy Schumer sharing their struggles.

Researchers are optimistic that this breakthrough could pave the way for a cure for the condition that affects up to 3% of pregnancies, according to the Cleveland Clinic, providing hope to the approximately 80% of women who experience some form of morning sickness.

Why Is There Morning Sickness In Pregnancy?

Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms for those who become pregnant, typically occurring between 4 and 18 weeks after conception. While some experience symptoms for the full nine months, a small percentage develops hyperemesis gravidarum, marked by severe symptoms that may result in a loss of more than 5% of body weight in early pregnancy, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Professor Sir Stephen O’Rahilly of the University of Cambridge, leading the research, explained, “Most women who become pregnant will experience nausea and sickness at some point, and while this is not pleasant, for some women, it can be much worse — they’ll become so sick they require treatment and even hospitalization.”

The primary culprit behind morning sickness is a hormone produced by the fetus known as GDF15. The severity of the mother’s symptoms depends on the quantity of this hormone produced by the fetus and the woman’s exposure to it before pregnancy.

O’Rahilly elaborated, “The baby growing in the womb is producing a hormone at levels the mother is not used to. The more sensitive she is to this hormone, the sicker she will become.”

The researchers believe that building a woman’s tolerance to the hormone before pregnancy might prevent sickness, based on preliminary experiments with mice. Knowing the cause opens the door to developing effective and safe treatments by preventing GDF15 from accessing its receptor in the mother’s brain.

While the researchers are exploring potential preventative measures, various lifestyle changes can help alleviate morning sickness symptoms. Pregnant individuals are advised to avoid triggers like specific foods, textures, and smells.

Staying hydrated and eating whenever feeling well enough are crucial, as hunger and dehydration can exacerbate symptoms.

Some studies suggest that supplements of vitamin B6, doxylamine (Unisom), and ginger can have a soothing effect, but individuals are encouraged to consult with their doctors before trying these treatments.

Hope for Effective Treatments

Dr. Marlena Fejzo of the University of Southern California, co-author of the study, expressed hope for the future, saying, “Hopefully, now that we understand the cause of hyperemesis gravidarum, we’re a step closer to developing effective treatments to stop other mothers going through what I and many other women have experienced.”

The findings, published in Nature, mark a significant step forward in addressing the challenges faced by pregnant individuals dealing with morning sickness and offer a ray of hope for improved treatments in the future.


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