Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness.
Affected women experience intense nausea and are unable to keep down food and fluids. This can lead to dangerous dehydration and inadequate nutrition during pregnancy.
In a recent study from Kaiser Permanente, researchers found children whose mothers had this health problem during pregnancy were 53% more likely to be diagnosed with autism.
This finding suggests that children born to women with hyperemesis may be at an increased risk of autism.
Awareness of this association may create the opportunity for earlier diagnosis and intervention in children at risk of autism.
The study is published in the American Journal of Perinatology. The lead author is Darios Getahun, MD, Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente.
In the study, the researchers reviewed electronic health records of nearly 500,000 pregnant women and their children born between 1991 and 2014 at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California.
They aimed to determine the extent of the association between hyperemesis gravidarum and autism.
They compared children whose mothers had a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy to those whose mothers did not.
The researchers found exposure to hyperemesis gravidarum was linked to an increased risk of autism when hyperemesis gravidarum was diagnosed during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, but not when it was diagnosed only in the third trimester.
In addition, exposure to hyperemesis gravidarum was linked to risk of autism regardless of the severity of the mother’s hyperemesis gravidarum.
The link between hyperemesis gravidarum and autism was stronger in girls than boys and among whites and Hispanics than among blacks and Pacific Islanders.
The medications used to treat hyperemesis gravidarum did not appear to be related to autism risk.
The team says the study cannot rule out other possible explanations, such as perinatal exposures to some medications and maternal smoking.
Future work needs to examine these factors and develop earlier diagnosis and intervention.
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