Maria Shriver Recalls Severe Morning Sickness Was 'Absolute Torture' as Scientists Work on Potential Treatment

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Maria Shriver interviewed Dr. Marlena Fejzo, a scientist leading research on a potential treatment for hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness

<p>Nicola Gell/Getty Images Entertainment</p>

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 Maria Shriver

Nicola Gell/Getty Images Entertainment

Maria Shriver

Maria Shriver is discussing the “absolute torture” she experienced with severe morning sickness as scientists continue groundbreaking research to help pregnant women dealing with hyperemesis gravidarum.

During a recent segment on the Today Show, the journalist and mom of four, 68, detailed the rare illness.

“Hyperemesis gravidarum is a condition that makes pregnant women violently ill for months on end, so much so they often can’t eat, they can't walk, they can’t function at all,” she explained.

“The cost for treatment exceeds $3 billion a year. I, myself, suffered from this during pregnancy and let me tell you, it is absolute torture, often causing hospitalization,” she said.

As Shriver explained that there currently is no test to diagnose it, she spoke to Dr. Marlena Fejzo, a geneticist at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and one of the world’s leading researchers on the condition. She told Shriver that she recently found a genetic link to the illness.

Related: Scientists Finally Pinpoint Cause of Severe Morning Sickness

Fejzo said her research was motivated by her own experience. She suffered from the condition two decades ago and lost her baby as a result of it. According to the outlet, one of three pregnancies with hyperemesis gravidarum don’t make it to full term.

“I needed to know what had caused this condition and stop people from having to go through what I did,” Fejzo said.

“We found that there’s a 17-fold increased risk of having it if your sister had it,” she explained, noting that her goal is to develop a genetic test for hyperemesis as well as treatment to block symptoms.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is when extreme, persistent nausea and vomiting occurs during pregnancy. It is a severe form of morning sickness that can result in weight loss, dehydration, headaches, fainting, and fatigue. Symptoms can be debilitating and lead to hospitalization or cause harm to the fetus.

The condition affects less than 3% of pregnant people, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which adds that it causes the pregnancy to be classified as "high-risk."

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Last month, Fejzo co-authored a study that pinpointed a specific hormone as the culprit in the most severe cases of hyperemesis.

The study, published in the journal Nature, pinpointed the hormone GDF15, which the University of Cambridge explains is produced by the placenta, but also other tissues when a woman is not pregnant. The hormone was previously linked to causing nausea and emesis (vomiting), according to a study in the National Institute of Health.

“We confirmed that higher GDF15 levels in maternal blood are associated with vomiting in pregnancy and HG,” the study said, which added that patients suffering from it could perhaps one day take medications that block the hormone’s effects.

Kate Middleton famously struggled with hyperemesis gravidarum during all three of her pregnancies, causing her to cancel planned appearances and at one point, be hospitalized. Comedian Amy Schumer also landed in the hospital with the condition during her second trimester, which is traditionally when morning sickness eases.

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