For many women, pregnancy is a time of awe and joy. But even the most awe-struck mom-to-be will admit to a few weeks that aren’t so joyful. More than half of all pregnant women experience morning sickness
at some point. For 75-80% of pregnant women, nausea and vomiting are just part of the package.
However, for an unfortunate few, the nausea and vomiting is more than a nuisance. Hyperemesis gravidarum
(HG) is an extreme form of morning sickness characterized by excessive nausea and vomiting to the point that adequate intake of food and fluid is prevented. If left untreated it can lead to malnutrition, hyperglycemia, dehydration, and even acute renal failure for the expectant mother. But that’s not all. More than one victim.
New research shows that pregnant women aren’t the only ones at risk. A study conducted by UCLA and the University of Southern California has determined that children born to HG mothers were 3.6 times more prone to suffer from depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder
in adulthood when compared to those whose mothers did not have HG.
While morning sickness is common within the first trimester, prior studies have found that when women experience nausea in the second trimester and beyond, their children have more learning and attention difficulties by the age of 12. In addition, the poor fetal nutrition that results from HG can mean poor health as adults.
Marlena Fejzo, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Keck School of Medicine of USC states, “Even though hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) can be a form of starvation and dehydration in pregnancy, no studies prior to this have been done to determine the long-term effects it has on the exposed unborn child.” The study.
The results of surveys of 150 women with HG were the basis for the current study findings. Interestingly enough, these women reported on the behavioral and emotional histories of their siblings. Fifty-five of the respondents had mothers that experienced HG, which meant their siblings were exposed to HG in the womb. Ninety-five of the women had mothers that did not suffer from HG. By the same token, their siblings were not exposed.
From the exposed group, 16 percent of siblings had depression. In the non-exposed group only three percent had the condition. Eight percent of the group with mothers with HG was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, while only two percent of the non-exposed group received such a diagnosis. As for anxiety, seven percent of the exposed group reported, with only two percent of the non-exposed group.
The researchers state, “ In all, among 17 diagnoses, 38 percent of the cases [those from the exposed group] are reported to have a psychological and/or behavioral disorder, as compared to 15 percent of controls. In this study, adults exposed to HG in-utero are significantly more likely to have psychological and/or behavioral disorder than non-exposed adults.”What causes these higher rates of disorders?
Possibly, the mother’s prolonged exposure to dehydration
and malnutrition while fetal brains are still in the developmental stage. Also, since HG mothers experience a lot of stress and anxiety, the biochemical results of those emotions could play a role as well.
The study concluded that adults who were exposed to HG while in the womb were as almost four times more likely to experience chronic neurobehavioral disorders for the remainder of their adult years. “HG is an understudied and undertreated condition of pregnancy that can result in not only short-term maternal physical and mental health problems but also potentially lifelong consequences to the exposed fetus.”