JOURNAL ARTICLE

Understanding the stigma of hyperemesis gravidarum: qualitative findings from an action research study

Zoƫ Power, Ann M Thomson, Heather Waterman
Birth 2010, 37 (3): 237-44
20887540

BACKGROUND: Severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum) can be a distressing and debilitating condition when it is uncontrolled. For all concerned, hyperemesis gravidarum can be difficult to treat satisfactorily, and women tend to be admitted to a hospital several times during early pregnancy. Our research objectives were to describe the experience of hyperemesis gravidarum from the perspective of affected women and to explore with health care professionals the barriers and facilitators to caring for women with the condition.

METHODS: A qualitative research design was used. A total of 18 women were interviewed, of whom 8 had two or more interviews. Seven focus groups were conducted with health care professionals. Thematic data analysis was undertaken.

RESULTS: The main themes emerging from the women's data were the effect and burden of the symptoms of the condition and feeling unpopular with staff. From the practitioner data, the main themes were the validity (or invalidity) of hospitalization for women, skepticism of the severity of symptoms, the psychological and social dimensions of the condition, and inadequate primary care services.

CONCLUSIONS: The main findings revealed that hyperemesis gravidarum is a debilitating condition and that the unhelpful attitudes of practitioners may affect whether women access timely and appropriate care. Many women appear to be unsupported by primary care services and are distressed when perceived either as "time wasters" or someone else's responsibility. We propose that a tailored assessment and care plan for each woman is needed to help them control their symptoms, which ideally should be delivered in the community.

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