Later this week, Warwick University will hold Britain’s first-ever conference to discuss the condition. Dr Brian Swallow of Lincoln University (where I work), one of the organisers of the conference, says that he became interested in researching the area of sickness in pregnancy after his wife suffered badly with it during her two pregnancies. He says:
‘She [my wife] couldn’t get out of bed, she was in and out of hospital, she was nauseous and [was] vomiting all day. At one stage, in her second pregnancy, my little boy even asked me whether his mummy was going to die. It’s a really serious, debilitating condition – but many people don’t understand that. You even get employers who think women are exaggerating its severity so they can have time off work.’
In anticipation of the this week’s coming conference, the topic of extreme sickness in pregnancy, or ‘hyperemesis gravidarum’ to use the medical term, has been featured in the UK media over the past couple of weeks.
The Daily Mail recently featured one woman’s tale of the agony of suffering extreme sickness in pregnancy – Cheryl Harrison, 34, told of how she was nine weeks into her planned second pregnancy when she made the decision to have a termination, her sickness being so bad that it left her unable to leave her home or care for her two-year old daughter.
Around seven out of ten pregnant women have episodes of nausea during pregnancy, but for a smaller number of women, estimated at one in one hundred, the symptoms of the sickness are bad enough to require hospital treatment. In this extreme form, the sickness can be a very serious health risk to both mother and child.
Yet despite the potentially very serious consequences of the condition, many women feel that their symptoms aren’t taken seriously. Dr Swallow claims that this is because there is no clearly defined way of treating the condition medically –- there is no uniformity to how a woman will be treated if she goes to her GP. He asserts that ‘some doctors may be very good at knowing how to help -– but for too many women the response of their GP will be that [the sickness] is just something they have to put up with.’
In the UK there is no drug licensed to help women who suffer from extreme sickness in pregnancy. There are treatments in existence that could help deal with the problem but, the Guardian reports, the decision to medically licence such treatments in the UK has not been taken, and the will to do so is lacking -– something else that points to the fact that the condition is not always taken particularly seriously.
In my mind, there needs to be treatments licenced to help women who suffer dreadfully with sickness during their pregnancies. Of course, this is easier said than done -the stigma of taking drugs or supplements during pregnancy would firstly need to be overcome. In addition, the shadow of Thalidomide , the 1960s anti-nausea drug that led to birth defects, means that such treatments would need to be thoroughly proven as safe before expectant mothers would be willing to take them, and doctors willing to prescribe them. If these barriers were to be overcome, however, it seems to me that more women would be able to overcome extreme sickness in pregnancy and that the condition would then have more gravitas to be formally recognised and dealt with sympathetically by employers.
And of course, if the licensing and development of appropriate treatments means women like Cheryl Harrison do not have to face the agonising decision of whether to terminate a precious, planned and wanted pregnancy –- then this can only be a good thing.
What do you guys think? Have any of you experienced sickness in pregnancy? Do you agree when I assert that more research should be conducted into safe methods of treating the condition, or is this just a cross that some women have to bear should they want children?