Time’s up for morning sickness? How a research hospital is leading an effort to pull the plug on pregnancy nausea

Keck USC. A pregnant woman sits with one hand on lower back and one resting atop stomach.

A research hospital in California is at the forefront of an international effort to prevent pregnancy nausea and vomiting, commonly known as “morning sickness.”

Nausea and vomiting affect upwards of 80% of women at some point during pregnancy, something that researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of South California and University of Cambridge attribute to GDF15, a hormone produced in the placenta during pregnancy. An additional 2% experience hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), an extreme response that can lead to weight loss, dehydration and hospitalization.

Researchers believe pre-pregnancy exposure to the hormone might “prime” a pregnant person for resisting elevated levels of GDF15, thus reducing symptoms.

“Hopefully, now that we understand the main cause of HG, we’re a step closer to developing effective treatments to stop other mothers from going through what I, and many other women, have experienced,” said Marlena Fejzo, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of population and public health sciences in the Center for Genetic Epidemiology at the Keck School of Medicine.