Clinical Signs & Symptoms

Laboratory Findings 

Laboratory findings may include: 

  • Signs of dehydration and starvation such as increased ketones, increased urine specific gravity, increased blood urea nitrogen 
  • Electrolyte imbalances such as abnormal levels of phosphate, magnesium, sodium and potassium 
  • Vitamin deficiencies such as vitamin K, D and thiamin 
  • Increases in liver enzymes, such as in aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase or bilirubin activity 
  • Abnormal thyroid and parathyroid levels 
  • Increased hematocrit, indicating a reduced blood volume 



Electrolyte changes include decreased sodium, potassium, phosphate, chloride and magnesium levels. However, in some women, lab levels such as electrolytes may appear normal or falsely concentrated due to dehydration. Treatment for these women is advisable to replace marginally normal levels of electrolytes and nutrients.  

Proactive Monitoring

Baseline laboratory tests should be done prior to onset of severe symptoms. Regular assessment with the HELP Score allows objective trending of symptom severity.

Fortunately, most women with less severe HG or those who are treated aggressively early in pregnancy, will not have life-threatening complications or a prolonged recovery.

Dehydration and Malnutrition

Most women with HG will have marginal hydration if they are not dehydrated. Turgor testing, weight trending, and general assessment of dry skin, lips, and mucous membranes indicate hydration.

Recurrent dehydration worsens nausea and vomiting and make symptoms more refractory to treatment as well as reduce medication effectiveness.

TIP: Always give IV nutrients (e.g. MVI, thiamin, vit K, folic acid) with IV fluids. Intramuscular vitamins are not advised due to muscle atrophy and low pain tolerance.

If the woman has been unable to eat sufficiently for a few weeks and has also been vomiting, she is at high-risk for nutritional deficiencies and refeeding syndrome. Being pregnant, she is also in a state of accelerated starvation, meaning the adverse effects of starvation will occur more quickly. Significant malnutrition can occur as many nutrients are depleted in a relatively short time frame, especially water-soluble vitamins, such as thiamin.

Wernicke's Encephalopathy

Thiamin deficiency has been well-documented in hyperemetic women and may lead to Wernicke's encephalopathy (encephalopathy that progresses to life-threatening neurological damage and cardiorespiratory arrest). The prognosis is then poor as irreversible organ damage and death may occur.

What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG)?

HG is hyperemesis gravidarum: a potentially life-threatening pregnancy disease that may cause weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration, and debility due to severe nausea and vomiting, and may cause long-term health issues for mom and baby.

Comparison of Morning Sickness and HG

Area Impacted:Hyperemesis Gravidarum:Morning Sickness:
EmploymentOften are unable to work for weeks or months and may lose their job or be forced to resign.May lose up to a month of employment, work part-time and/or use sick time. Job performance may be reduced.
Daily ActivitiesMay be unable to perform even simple household chores or care for themselves (shower, drive, etc.) when symptoms are severe.Can perform most necessary responsibilities at some point during the day or week when symptoms are less intense.
Energy LevelFatigue may be severe for weeks or months. Bed rest is often a necessity. Prolonged fatigue is very common.Fatigue is mild to moderate and decreases workload. Rest is needed to alleviate symptoms.
Relationships & SocializationRelationships are often greatly strained and may dissolve. Isolation is common and may lead to depression. Abuse and neglect of the mother may occur.Relationships may be stressed but social functioning is only temporarily reduced.
FinancesFinancial loss due to medical care, loss of income, and additional paid services (child care) can be devastating.Financial loss due to medical care, loss of work, and use of sick time is significant, but usually manageable.
Stress LevelPsychological stress is typically moderate to severe and often results in anxiety, depression and trauma that may be prolonged. May require treatment.Psychological stress is mild to moderate and may result in depression during/after pregnancy that may resolve without treatment.
RecoveryPostpartum recovery is prolonged, averaging 6 months to 2 years.Postpartum recovery is typical and usually takes a few months.