12th September 2000




Researchers in Hull and Lincoln have embarked on a major study to try to explain ‘morning sickness’ - relentless nausea and sickness in pregnancy - and to help women to cope with it.


‘Study of Sickness in Pregnancy’ (SOS) is a new research project being undertaken at the University of Lincolnshire & Humberside in a bid to get to the bottom of an ailment which can often take the sheen off an otherwise happy pregnancy.


“At least 70 per cent of women experience nausea and sickness in pregnancy,” said Brian Swallow, the research director at the University of Lincoln. 


“A large number of these women experience quite severe sickness which involves a disruption to their daily lives such as time off work.  About one in 100 women experience the symptoms so severely that they have to be admitted to hospital to avoid dehydration and starvation.  This condition is known as hyperemesis gravidarum.  Our research will concentrate particularly on this, although we also hope to help people with less severe sickness.”


Cathy (not her real name), a former sufferer, described the symptoms. “It is like having your whole stomach turned inside out,” she said. “You are being sick when there is nothing to sick up.  It was so awful that my little boy asked my husband if mummy was dying.”


Researchers do not know what causes sickness in pregnancy; some blame a hormonal imbalance while others point to psychological or social factors.  Still others argue that sickness in pregnancy is an evolutionary adaptive mechanism to prevent women from eating food that may be harmful to her or the foetus.


The study - the first comprehensive research of its kind in the UK- hopes to identify some of these factors and to describe the experience from the perspective of the patient in order to find a more appropriate method of treatment and support.


There are also a number of common myths that the researchers want to dispel.  “We already know that the term ‘morning sickness’ is not correct, as the symptoms occur at any time of the day,” said Dr Swallow. “We also want to scotch the myth held by some doctors that women can somehow ‘snap out of it’.

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“Finally, women are told that the symptoms will cease after the first trimester of pregnancy, but we know that this is not always the case. At least two-thirds of those with hyperemesis carry on being sick in the second trimester, and a third are sick throughout their whole pregnancy”, Dr Swallow pointed out.


The research is the first comprehensive work carried out in this country into this condition. “We are still undertaking some pilot studies and attempting to identify funding to embark on the main research project,” Dr Swallow explained. 


Study Of Sickness in Pregnancy is being conducted by the Psychology Department at the University of Lincoln in collaboration with the Medical School at the University of Hull and the Consultant Obstetricians and Midwives at the maternity hospitals in the Hull and East Riding NHS Hospital Trust.


As far as Cathy is concerned, the research has not come a moment too soon. “No-one told me anything about the condition - I just felt that I had to suffer in silence,” she said. “I know now that it was because nobody knew much about it.  I hope this research helps other women who experience sickness in pregnancy in the future.”


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For further details contact Brian Swallow, senior lecturer in Psychology, University of Lincoln (tel: 01482 440550 or 01482 471511). Or email bswallow@humber.ac.uk


For more information on this press release contact:


Jez Ashberry

Press and Media Relations Manager

University of Lincolnshire & Humberside

Tel: 01522 886042

email: jashberry@lincoln.ac.uk