Interventions for treating hyperemesis gravidarum: a Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis

J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2018 Sep;31(18):2492-2505. doi: 10.1080/14767058.2017.1342805. Epub 2017 Jul 11.


Introduction: While nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy are very common, affecting approximately 80% of the pregnancies, hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form affecting 0.3-1.0% of the pregnancies. Although hyperemesis gravidarum is rarely a source of mortality, it is a significant source of morbidity. It is one of the most common indications for hospitalization in pregnancy. Beyond the maternal and fetal consequences of malnutrition, the severity of hyperemesis symptoms causes a major psychosocial burden leading to depression, anxiety, and even pregnancy termination. The aim of this meta-analysis was to examine all randomized controlled trials of interventions specifically for hyperemesis gravidarum and evaluate them based on both subjective and objective measures of efficacy, maternal and fetal/neonatal safety, and economic costs.

Material and methods: Randomized controlled trials were identified by searching electronic databases. We included all randomized controlled trials for the treatment of hyperemesis gravidarum. The primary outcome was intervention efficacy as defined by severity, reduction, or cessation in nausea/vomiting; number of episodes of emesis; and days of hospital admission. Secondary outcomes included other measures of intervention efficacy, adverse maternal/fetal/neonatal outcomes, quality of life measures, and economic costs.

Results: Twenty-five trials (2052 women) met the inclusion criteria but the majority of 18 different comparisons described in the review include data from single studies with small numbers of participants. Selected comparisons reported below: No primary outcome data were available when acupuncture was compared with placebo. There was insufficient evidence to identify clear differences between acupuncture and metoclopramide in a study with 81 participants regarding reduction/cessation in nausea or vomiting (risk ratio (RR) 1.40, 95% CI 0.79-2.49 and RR 1.51, 95% CI 0.92-2.48, respectively). Midwife-led outpatient care was associated with fewer hours of hospital admission than routine inpatient admission (mean difference (MD) - 33.20, 95% CI -46.91 to -19.49) with no difference in pregnancy-unique quantification of emesis and nausea (PUQE) score, decision to terminate the pregnancy, miscarriage, small-for-gestational age infants, or time off work when compared with routine care. Women taking vitamin B6 had a slightly longer hospital stay compared with placebo (MD 0.80 days, 95% CI 0.08-1.52). There was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a difference in other outcomes including mean number of episodes of emesis (MD 0.50, 95% CI -0.40-1.40) or side effects. A comparison between metoclopramide and ondansetron identified no clear difference in the severity of nausea or vomiting (MD 1.70, 95% CI -0.15-3.55, and MD -0.10, 95% CI -1.63-1.43; one study, 83 women, respectively). However, more women taking metoclopramide complained of drowsiness and dry mouth (RR 2.40, 95% CI 1.23-4.69, and RR 2.38, 95% CI 1.10-5.11, respectively). There were no clear differences between groups for other side effects. In a single study with 146 participants comparing metoclopramide with promethazine, more women taking promethazine reported drowsiness, dizziness, and dystonia (risk ratio (RR) 0.70, 95% CI 0.56-0.87, RR 0.48, 95% CI 0.34-0.69, and RR 0.31, 95% CI 0.11-0.90, respectively). There were no clear differences between groups for other important outcomes including quality of life and other side effects. In a single trial with 30 women, those receiving ondansetron had no difference in duration of hospital admission compared to those receiving promethazine (mean difference (MD) 0.00, 95% CI -1.39-1.39), although there was increased sedation with promethazine (RR 0.06, 95% CI 0.00-0.94). Regarding corticosteroids, in a study with 110 participants there was no difference in days of hospital admission compared to placebo (MD -0.30, 95% CI -0.70-0.10), but there was a decreased readmission rate (RR 0.69, 95% CI 0.50-0.94; 4 studies, 269 women). For hydrocortisone compared with metoclopramide, no data were available for primary outcomes and there was no difference in the readmission rate (RR 0.08, 95% CI 0.00-1.28; one study, 40 women). In a study with 80 women, compared to promethazine, those receiving prednisolone had increased nausea at 48 h (RR 2.00, 95% CI 1.08-3.72), but not at 17 days (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.58-1.15). There was no clear difference in the number of episodes of emesis or subjective improvement in nausea/vomiting.

Conclusions: While there were a wide range of interventions studied, both pharmaceutical and otherwise, there were a limited number of placebo controlled trials. In comparing the efficacy of the commonly used antiemetics, metoclopramide, ondansetron, and promethazine, the results of this review do not support the clear superiority of one over the other in symptomatic relief. Other factors such as side effect profile medication safety and healthcare costs should also be considered when selecting an intervention.

Keywords: Vomiting; hyperemesis; pregnancy; review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperemesis Gravidarum / epidemiology
  • Hyperemesis Gravidarum / therapy*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care / methods*
  • Quality of Life


  • Antiemetics