Morning Sickness Linked to Behavioral Issues

Extreme morning sickness associated with mental disorders in offspring

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Old wives tales abound concerning pregnancy. One popular one is "if the future mother is really sick, it's a girl." According to recent research, it may cause something else.

A recent California study indicates that women who suffer from extreme morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum; HG) deliver offspring who are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from adult depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety than mothers who didn't have this extreme disorder. Women with HG account for 285,000 hospital admissions each year.

"If extremely sick during pregnancy, ask your OB/GYN if you have HG."

Marlena Fejzo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of hematology–oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and an assistant professor of maternal and fetal medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC reports that prior studies indicate that the offspring of women experiencing severe nausea persisting beyond the first trimester of pregnancy have more attention and learning problems through grade school. Other studies have pinpointed poor fetal nutrition, which is a frequent result of HG, can also lead to poor health in adulthood.

Dr. Fejzo explains that even though HG can lead to diminished nutrition and dehydration during pregnancy, no studies before this one have studied the long-term effects on the offspring.

Researchers suggest that HG needs more research and treatment options because of the toll it takes on the pregnant mother both mentally and physically. The potential health consequences to the offspring need to be better understood as well.

HG also can run in families and previous research indicates that women with a family history are 17 times more likely to develop this condition.

This study surveyed women with HG. There were 150 women who responded to the survey request, 55 of whom had mothers who also had HG and 95 did not. In all, 87 siblings from the exposed group (siblings of the women responding to the survey) and 172 siblings whose mothers did not have HG (control group).

The surveys indicate that 16 percent of siblings from the exposed group had depression verseu 3 percent from the control group. Of the siblings exposed to HG in utero, 8 percent are diagnosed with bipolar disorder versus 2 percent from the control group . Anxiety in adulthood was experienced in 7 percent of the exposed group versus 2 percent from the non-exposed group.

In total, 38 percent of siblings in the exposed group have some sort of psychological issue compared to 15 percent of the control group.

The study is published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 25, 2011
Last Updated:
August 30, 2011