Research shows why pregnant women have severe morning sickness

Most expectant moms only have a few weeks to warm to their news before it hits — the dreaded morning sickness, of course, is rarely a morning. But now, scientists say they’ve figured out what causes severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, and they hope it could also lead to better treatments, the New York Times reported this week.

The results come from research published on December 13 in the journal Nature, which links something called GDF15 to an increased risk of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. It’s a hormone that acts on the brain stem, and they determined that higher levels of this hormone are important. Both a mother’s sensitivity to the hormone, and how much the fetus develops to develop their risk of nausea and vomiting. So, in non-scientific terms, (partially) blame it on the baby!

The Times further reported that scientists also found that the amount of hormones the mother was exposed to before pregnancy was also important. They add that hormones circulate in the blood, and “are clustered” in the brain responsible for feeling that terrible first-trimester nausea that makes you slurp ginger mints like they’re out of style.

Hear Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety interview lead researcher Dr. Marlena Fejzo on the Motherly podcast here.

Although reports vary, up to 80% of pregnant mothers have nausea and vomiting, and an unlucky few have Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a more severe form that requires medical attention.

The Times brought up another issue – doctors and others believe and properly diagnose and treat more severe forms of nausea and vomiting, which can be fatal if left untreated in some cases. They report that some patients are dismissed under the misguided guidance that morning sickness is just “normal.”

Scientists hope this finding will lead to better treatments sooner rather than later, and that’s science we can count on.

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