Rare Disorder Turns Pregnancy Into Nightmare

By: Caroline Vandergriff Email
By: Caroline Vandergriff Email

When Justin and Angela Phelps learned they were expecting their first child, they were overjoyed. Then came the morning sickness.

"Starting at about 5 weeks, I started getting nauseous," said Angela, a nurse at Sparrow Hospital. "I thought it was normal morning sickness."

But it wasn't normal. Angela was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Hyperememis Gravidarum, which causes unrelenting nausea and vomiting. About 70 percent of all pregnant woman have morning sickness but in about 2 percent of those cases, the nausea never lets up, and the consequences can be devastating.

The most distressing part is just she can't do anything," said Dr. Robert Seiler, an OB/GYN surgeon at Okemos Womens Health, on patients with Hyperemesis. "She's incapacitated by her fetal nausea and she can't stop throwing up. And just from physically throwing up so many times, they can have things like esophageal tears, strokes."

Angela lost more than 10 percent of her body weight, and was eventually given a permanent IV for nutrition.

"It's very isolating," Angela explained. "Because you can't really do anything, you can't really see anybody, you can't really go out."

Hyperemesis took its toll not just emotionally and physically, but financially as well.

"I did lose my position at work," Angela said. "Luckily I was able to get a part-time position after she was born but still, I wasn't sure what was going to happen with that."

Now, she hopes to raise awareness about the disorder to help find a cure, and to make sure women get proper care. Some doctors dismiss Hyperemesis as a psychological issue, but experts say that's not the case.

"It's not a psychological issue," said Dr. Seiler. "It's definitely something physical that can't be controlled by psychotherapy or things like that."

Angela says she was lucky to have great doctors, and lucky her daughter Nina was born healthy.

"Even though it was an extremely hard 9 months, I would do it all over again tomorrow for her," Angela said. "It was worth it."

The cause of Hyperemesis Gravidarum is unknown, but researchers think there may be a link between the rapid increase in pregnancy hormones and the way some women's bodies respond to those changes. Newer research shows there might also be a genetic component.

Thousands of women with Hyperemesis are misdiagnosed each year. Many are told the constant vomiting and the malnutrition is simply morning sickness.

That's why the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation is asking people to sign an online petition urging lawmakers, researchers, and the medical community to take action and work to find a cure and a cause. We have the link the to the petition on WILX.com - all you have to do is click on the Hot Button.

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