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The common term “morning sickness” is misleading and should instead be described as nausea and sickness in pregnancy, according to UK researchers.
Their analysis of symptom diaries kept by 256 pregnant women indicated that it was inaccurate to describe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy as “morning sickness”.
“If a pregnant woman experiences sickness in the afternoon, she may feel that this is unusual and wrong”
the authors, most of whom were from the University of Warwick, found that such symptoms could occur at any time of the day, though the likelihood of experiencing them was highest in the morning.
They said their study, published today in the British Journal of General Practice, represents the first time that the symptom patterns of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy have been mapped over time.
The researchers used data from daily symptom diaries kept by 256 pregnant women, in which they recorded their experience of nausea and vomiting for each hour in the day, from the day they discovered they were pregnant until the 60th day of their pregnancy.
The researchers then used this data to map the likelihood of experiencing nausea and experiencing vomiting in each hour of the day, broken down into weeks following last ovulation.
They found that, while vomiting was most common between the hours of 7am and 1pm, nausea was highly likely throughout the whole daytime, not just the morning.
Furthermore, many women still reported vomiting as a symptom even into the evening, noted the researchers.
The most common hour for participants to experience nausea and vomiting was between 9am and 10am with 82% experiencing nausea in this hour, and 29% experiencing vomiting.
Overall, 94.2% of participants experienced at least one of these two symptoms during the study, with 58% experiencing both.
In addition, by comparing occurrence of symptoms across the first week weeks of pregnancy, the researchers found that the later the week, the higher the probability of experiencing symptoms.
They found the probability of experiencing nausea was at its highest in weeks five, six and seven while for vomiting it was in week seven.
As the study only examined the first seven weeks of pregnancy, the study authors acknowledged that the probabilities after week seven were not currently known.
The authors said: “The continued use of the term ‘morning sickness’ could imply that symptoms only rarely occur in the afternoon and evening so that sufferers will have significant parts of the day symptom-free.
“This study shows that this is an incorrect assumption and that symptoms, particularly nausea, can occur at any time of the day,” they added.
Lead study author Professor Roger Gadsby said: “Morning sickness is widely used by the general public, media and even healthcare professionals but it doesn’t give an accurate description of the condition.
“If a pregnant woman experiences sickness in the afternoon, she may feel that this is unusual and wrong, or if she experiences no vomiting but feels nauseated all day she might think she is not covered by the term ‘morning sickness’.”
In addition, Professor Gadsby cautioned that women who experienced severe symptoms felt that the term trivialised the condition.
“Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy can have a significant negative impact,” he said. “It can cause, feelings of depression, of being unable to look after the family, and of loss of time from paid work.”
He noted that very severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, called hyperemesis gravidarm, was the most common cause of admission to hospital during the first trimester.
The journal article stated that the estimated that the annual costs of managing nausea and vomiting in pregnancy to the NHS in England and Wales are around £62m.