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Kate Middleton pregnancy: what is hyperemesis gravidarum?

The world is abuzz about the pregnancy of the Dutchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, which some publications report likely had to reveal the news after being hospitalized with hyperemesis gravidarum. 

But what exactly is hyperemesis gravidarum?

The condition is so rare that Robert O. Atlas, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, questioned at first whether reports were correct that she had the illness. 

He said it is a syndrome that inflicts less than 1 percent of pregnant women. It causes extreme vomiting that can to lead to a 5 to 10 percent weight loss in the mother and cause electrolyte imbalances.

It is often caused by how women react to the pregnancy hormone hCG, Atlas said. It can be a sign of twins, an abnormal pregnancy, a thyroid disorder or psychological problems. It is unclear what caused Middleton's condition.

Women with the disease are usually hospitalized to protect both the baby and the mother by treating nutrition deficiencies and electrolyte balances. The mother is put on fluids and in the worst cases given steroids intravenously.

"In those women who don’t respond to anything, doctors have to give them nutrition through an IV or tube down their nose into the stomach and beyond," Atlas said. "Those are in exterme cases."

Luckily, the illness is treatable, Atlas said.


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