Abortion: Last Resort For Hellish Morning Sickness

About 2 percent of pregnant women who vomit get so sick they are hospitalized.

ByABC News
June 29, 2010, 11:22 AM

June 30, 2010 -- Anuja Batra is 18 weeks pregnant and has already lost nine pounds, instead of gaining the usual eight pounds. She throws up so often that she has been hospitalized seven times for being close to starvation.

Twice before, she tried to have a baby, but the vomiting was so horrific that on the advice of her doctors she chose to abort -- one at eight weeks and another at four months.

"It's hard to break the cycle," said Batra, a 37-year-old from Natick, Massachusetts, who hasn't been able to work for months. "It's every 15 to 20 minutes and lasts 24 hours or longer, and sometimes two or three days until the cycle breaks."

Hers is no ordinary morning sickness that can be relieved with a saltine cracker or ginger ale. Batra has a rare condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

Women report that the pain is so excruciating they hope for a miscarriage, and one study at the University of Southern California -- a leader in the field -- shows that as many as 1 in 7 of these women elect to abort.

Some doctors disparagingly call them "pukers" -- women who are so nauseated during pregnancy that they can barely function, lose weight and often end up on an IV in the hospital to avoid dehydration and malnourishment.

Moreover, doctors often have little expertise to help women like Batra who so desperately want to carry their babies to term.

In her first pregnancy, Batra said she had electroshock treatment because doctors were convinced her unrelenting nausea was "psychological."

"They laughed and told me I was making myself sick," she said.

But medical experts say the condition is real and on July 1, academics from around the world will meet at Warwick University in the Britain, hoping to find causes and treatment for hyperemesis gravidarum.

About 70 percent of all pregnant women have some morning sickness, which usually disappears before the end of the first trimester. But in about .5 to 2 percent of those cases, the nausea never lets up, according to the National Organization of Rare Diseases.

The condition is as old as pregnancy itself.

Jane Eyre author Charlotte Bronte died at age 38 along with her unborn child after excessive vomiting and "sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness."

"It's not that uncommon," said Miriam Erick, a registered dietitian who is helping Batra at her morning sickness clinic at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "And women just want relief."

For the last 15 years, she has been treating women with hyperemesis, propelled by the disregard she saw in the medical world.

"I heard so many unkind things about these women," said Erick, author of the 2004 book, "Managing Morning Sickness." "They're not the most popular patients and the more I listened to the gossip from the doctors and nurses and thought, it's not their fault."

The average duration for most women with hyperemesis is 17.3 weeks, but 22 percent have it until the birth.