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severe morning sickness

Severe Morning Sickness Tied to Hormone GDF-15

Can priming women with the identified hormone before pregnancy help them to avoid severe sickness?

Most women who get pregnant experience morning sickness, whether it’s in the early part of the day, all day, for the first trimester or all the way through pregnancy. But some women experience hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a severe form of morning sickness where absolutely nothing can be kept down all day long and the risk of dehydration is high. Now, a new study published in the journal Nature suggests that pregnant women who experience HG are particularly sensitive to a hormone called GDF-15.

Severe Morning Sickness: High Levels of GDF-15 Causes Problems

Researchers found that levels of GDF-15 rise during the first 12 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy. The higher the levels of the hormone released from the fetus, the more sick a pregnant woman can become. Contrarily, when the fetus produces less GDF-15, the risk of getting sick is lower.
All women with morning sickness are told to eat little snacks all day long, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid nausea triggers. But HG causes morning sickness to be so severe that managing symptoms becomes overwhelming. Women who lose control of their morning sickness can end up dehydrated and will need hospitalization for rehydration.
To offset morning sickness before it becomes severe, doctors can prescribe anti-vomiting medications and vitamin B1 to women with HG. Read more about HG here.
Currently, the lead researcher of the study — Dr. Marlena Fejzo, a geneticist and assistant professor at the University of Southern California — is working to learn more. Fejzo herself experienced HG and wants to help women avoid it. She has submitted a grant for trial to investigate if exposing women to GDF-15 prior to pregnancy may help them to build up tolerance for it during pregnancy.


About the Author

Susan Swindell Day

Susan Day is the editor in chief for this award-winning publication and all-things Nashville Parent digital creative. She's also an Equity actress, screenwriter and a mom of four amazing kids.