Royal Heir Sends Kate Middleton to the Hospital

The Royals are prepping for the pitter patter of tiny prince (or princess) feet that will one day ascend the throne. Monday the Palace quelled rumors that have swirled for months: The Duchess of Cambridge, affectionately known as Princess Kate, is pregnant.

As news traveled of the impending Royal stork visit, Kate Middleton spent the day in the hospital being treated for an extreme case of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum, which affects about one percent of all pregnancies. The Palace expects the Princess to spend several days recuperating in King Edward VII Hospital in Central London.

"[T]he pregnancy is in its very early stages," a rep said in a statement. "Her Royal Highness is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will require a period of rest thereafter."

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Complicated Name, Not So Complicated Meaning

The term "hyperemesis gravidarum" sounds ominous, but it's actually a straightforward condition. Hyper is the Greek root for "excessive," emesis means "vomiting" and gravida means "pregnant."

Morning sickness is thought to be triggered by the rapid release of a hormone called HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is released by the placenta. The cause of hyperemesis gravidarum is unknown, although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says expecting twins can increase the odds a woman will suffer from this condition. Royal watchers are sure to speculate the Princess is carrying two children instead of just one.

Beyond Crackers and Ginger Ale

According to the NIH, it’s common for women to experience nausea and/or vomiting early in their pregnancy. Most find success treating these with time-honored tricks like snacking on saltine crackers and other dry foods before getting out of bed, sipping ginger ale throughout the day, or eating several small meals during the day instead of two or three large ones. Avoiding foods that trigger a bout of nausea also helps.

A few lucky expectant moms escape the early days and weeks of pregnancy without some form of morning sickness altogether, while some women find the nausea or vomiting synonymous with the morning strikes in the afternoon or evening.

But while the world sits back and waits for her belly to swell, Kate Middleton is likely sitting back hoping to be able to keep food—any food—down. According to the NIH, the condition causes moms-to-be to experience extreme and persistent nausea and vomiting that often leads to dehydration. Excessive vomiting can also be problematic during a pregnancy because it can impede proper weight gain.

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What’s the difference?

One of the tell-tale signs that a pregnant woman like Duchess Kate is suffering from the condition is the severity of the vomiting. Here’s how to tell the difference between morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum:

Morning SicknessHyperemesis Gravidarum
Nausea sometimes accompanied by vomiting    Nausea accompanied by severe vomiting
Nausea that subsides at 12 weeks or soon after Nausea that does not subside
Vomiting that does not cause severe dehydrationVomiting that causes severe dehydration
Vomiting that allows you to keep some food down  Vomiting that does not allow keeping any food down

Because the condition is so taxing to the body, women may also experience low blood pressure and/or a racing pulse, lightheadedness and/or fainting, and weight loss due the inability to keep down any food.

Extreme morning sickness can happen to any woman, regardless of her age, weight, or lifestyle. The svelte Duchess’ physique likely has little to do with her condition.

Treating Duchess Kate

Like Kate Middleton, women with extreme morning sickness are often hospitalized and given IV fluids to prevent dehydration. In some instances, a doctor may prescribe medicine to prevent nausea where vomiting is persistent.

“The most important treatments are hydration, medications that will stop the vomiting, and monitoring of vitamin levels to ensure that the depletion does not become severe to the mother or the fetus. In very severe cases, the patient is fed through an IV,” says Carmella Sebastian, MD, the Medical Director Lead for the Wellness Program, Better You From Blue in Tampa, Florida

Thankfully, most women experience a decrease in symptoms after the first 12 weeks and report complete absence of symptoms by the second half of their pregnancy. And the heir to the throne shouldn’t be affected; doctors say it’s rare for a mom or infant to experience any serious complications as long as the condition is properly treated.

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Health Highlights: Feb. 27, 2014