YOUR HEALTH: Treating chronic morning sickness

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LOS ANGELES, California – Both of Jennie and Andreas Karrer's children are healthy.

But Jennie was so sick during her pregnancies that some days, she couldn't get out of bed.

"It feels like a very bad stomach flu where you want to die because you can't do anything. You can't move, you know?"

Moms with hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, get nausea and vomiting and lose their appetites and drop weight.

It can get so bad, they need IV's, medication, and feeding tubes.

UCLA researcher Marlena Fejzo studied thousands of pregnant moms' DNA and noticed that proteins from two genes are abnormally high in women with HG.

"The protein then goes to the brain and signals this loss of appetite and nausea and vomiting in extreme cases," said UCLA/USC associate researcher Marlena Fejzo.  "So there's quite a bit of evidence now that it is a cause."

Her discovery doesn't mean relief is coming soon, but it's a start.

"Finally, we have some answers so we can start to look at therapies that will target those proteins and hopefully lower them safely in pregnancy," said Fejzo.

Back in 1999, Fejzo lost her baby because of extreme morning sickness.  Since then, she's worked tirelessly to find a reason behind the condition that affects 2% of women.

With the help of the DNA company "23 and Me", she believes she's zeroed in on a cause and the first step toward a treatment.

NEW RESEARCH:  Marlena Fejzo, PhD, an associate researcher at UCLA and USC, said "many years ago I talked to the personal genetics company 23andMe and asked them to add questions related to nausea and vomiting in pregnancy in their surveys.  We have partnered with them to analyze the data.  By last year they had over 50,000 women that had reported on their levels of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.  We compared the genetic variation in women with no nausea and vomiting to women with very severe nausea and vomiting or hyperemesis gravidaram.  And what we found then was that the women with hyperemesis had difference in their DNA around the two genes GEF15 and IGF57.'

Jennie says treatment for HG would be amazing.

"I would be so happy for other moms and if I were supposed to have another kid, I would be happy for myself, obviously."

Fejzo says the two genes she's linked to morning sickness are also responsible for a form of extreme nausea that occurs in cancer patients.   She hopes that link will expedite the drug's development.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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