Good news, Kate Middleton! An anti-seizure drug has been shown to stop the symptoms of an extreme form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum. The illness has been plaguing the pregnant duchess since at least last week and forced her to cancel all public appearances until Christmas.
Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness that affects some pregnant women. The condition can cause women to vomit every 15 to 30 minutes at all hours of the day and night. Because of the frequent loss of fluids, many women are hospitalized several times during the course of their pregnancy. What's more, Dr. Thomas Guttuso Jr., a neurologist and a professor at the University of Buffalo, estimates that 15 percent of women who suffer from the condition have abortions, even though their pregnancies were planned, because ending the pregnancy is the only way to stop the symptoms.
However, relief may soon be on the horizon. Guttuso has been studying gabapentin, an anti-seizure and anti-pain drug that has previously been in use to help cancer patients manage the side effects of chemotherapy. Because the drug was so successful in helping those patients manage their vomiting and nausea, Guttuso thought that it might have the same effect on women with hyperemesis gravidarum.
In a small study published in Early Human Development, Guttuso and his colleagues administered the drug to seven pregnant women. The drug was overwhelmingly successful. Though none of the women had seen any improvement with other drugs, they felt much better only two hours after taking the pill and some were able to start eating and drinking once again. One of the women had even scheduled an abortion for the day after the start of the trial, but the drug helped her symptoms so much that she was able to complete her pregnancy to term. She also used gabapentin for her next pregnancy as well.
"The study showed that after two weeks of gabapentin therapy, the seven women experienced an average 80 percent reduction in their nausea and a 94 percent reduction in their vomiting and near normal levels of eating and drinking," Guttuso said in a statement.
The women could stop taking the drug midway through their pregnancy in order to prevent the recurrent vomiting and nausea from returning.
However, the administration of medication to pregnant women can be an ethical conundrum. In Guttuso's study, two of the women gave birth to infants with congenital disorders. The Food and Drug Administration placed the study on hold. Eventually, the bureau was able to determine that gabapentin use by pregnant women did not elevate the risk of congenital disorders.