Women suffering from extreme morning sickness may be driven to consider terminating their pregnancies, new research has suggested.
The survey of more than 5,000 women with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), the condition suffered by the Duchess of Cambridge which causes severe vomiting, is the largest ever study into the debilitating illness.
Researchers analysed the results of a survey sent to the members of the Pregnancy Sickness Support charity with results, published in Obstetric Medicine, revealing that over half (52.1%) considered terminating their pregnancy, while 4.9% of women said they terminated a wanted pregnancy because of HG.
The study, developed as a collaboration between the BBC, Pregnancy Sickness Support, and researchers at Kings College also found that over a quarter (25.5%) with the condition occasionally thought about suicide, while while 6.6% of women regularly considered it.
One woman described how she became "so ill that I considered termination, when I couldn’t bring myself to do that, I contemplated taking my own life".
Women also reported difficulty in accessing medications: 86% of participants took prescribed medication, however 41% of these women had to actively request these.
One commented that "any requests for help were met with 'you will have to visit your GP' which was impossible as I couldn’t leave my bed".
Meanwhile 15% and 24% of women described their primary care experience to be ‘extremely poor’ or ‘poor’ respectively, while almost 10% and 20% described their secondary care experience to be ‘extremely poor’ or ‘poor’ respectively.
Another woman described being "made to feel stupid when I reported the extent of my sickness and that I should really have been able to cope".
Women also described the impact having the condition had on the size of their future families, with references to being unable to cope with a further pregnancy including: "I’d like more children, but don’t think my body or mind could take the strain."
For 184 women their experience of the condition had been so severe it resulted in them deciding not to have another baby in the future.
Lack of support and understanding from family members was also a common theme running throughout the results, indicating the need to raise awareness of the condition.
Researchers now hope their findings will help to increase awareness about the condition to ensure the support and treatment of women's suffering improves.
"This study has confirmed the urgent need for further research into this devastating condition," explains senior author, Professor Catherine Williamson from King's College London.
"We hope that the work we are currently carrying out at King's College London will allow us to find out more about the effects that hyperemesis gravidarum has on both the mother and developing child and also about what causes this illness.
"By answering these questions, we will be able to develop more effective treatments, improving the care of these women."
Watch: Kate Middleton opened up about having hyperemesis gravidarum.
Dr Caitlin Dean, chairperson of Pregnancy Sickness Support, said the study demonstrates the scale of the problem with HG care in the UK.
“Too many women are receiving poor care and losing their much-wanted babies," she says. "We need greater awareness of the available treatments and more compassion in the way care is provided."
Meanwhile Clare Murphy, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said no woman should have to end a wanted pregnancy because she has been unable to access the care she needs.
"This is an important study which must raise awareness of the devastating consequences of severe pregnancy sickness which women are often expected just to put up with.
“We must move away from the mantra that ‘nothing is safe in pregnancy’ because not treating pregnant women is also harmful. Safe, effective medications are available, and women must be offered them.”
What is hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)?
Pregnancy Sickness Support describes HG as a severe complication of pregnancy. Sufferers can find normal functioning difficult, struggle to maintain adequate food and fluid intake and some can experience vomiting in excess of 30 times a day.
Exactly how many pregnant women get HG is not known as some cases may go unreported, but according to the NHS it is thought to be around one to three in every 100.
In terms of treatment, those diagnosed with HG can expect to be offered an antiemetic (anti-sickness) medication via an injection until they can tolerate this in tablet form.
They may also be offered intravenous fluids to rehydrate them whilst the right medication is found to help ease the sickness.
If you are being sick frequently and cannot keep food down, the NHS advises you tell your midwife or doctor, or contact the hospital as soon as possible as there is a risk you may become dehydrated, and your midwife or doctor can make sure you get the right treatment.