Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

General practitioners are wary of treating sickness in pregnancy

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 26 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:505
  1. Roger Gadsby, senior lecturer in primary care (rgadsby{at}
  1. 1University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL

    Sickness in pregnancy causes symptoms that vary from mild to so severe that hospital admission is required. It is associated with an appreciable loss of time from work1 and disruption of normal social activities,2 and it has been the stated reason for 25-29 terminations of pregnancy every year in the United Kingdom.3 However, many general practitioners in the United Kingdom feel frightened of suggesting any treatment to women presenting with pregnancy sickness because they believe that it would be ineffective and could cause fetal abnormalities.

    There were 20 rapid responses after the first part of the case history, some of which discussed the use of nutritional and complementary therapies. The problem is that few data exist on the effectiveness and safety of such therapies for pregnancy sickness. There were fewer responses after the second part of the history, which perhaps suggests that doctors are not used to the idea of n of 1 trials in general practice.

    Pregnancy sickness is difficult to measure, and the methods described in the case report might not have been sensitive enough to detect any improvement resulting from treatment with pyridoxine. One respondent also suggested that the treatment intervals should have been longer.

    The Rhodes score, which was first used to assess nausea and vomiting during cancer chemotherapy, has been proposed as the method of choice for assessing treatments for pregnancy sickness.4 This score gives a validated and quantifiable measure of the severity of the condition.

    Advice is needed

    No drugs are licensed for treating pregnancy sickness in the United Kingdom. However, evidence based guidelines approved by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada state that diclectin (pyridoxine 10 mg and doxylamine 10 mg) should be the initial treatment as it has the greatest evidence to support its efficacy and safety in pregnancy.5

    In the absence of such a guideline in the United Kingdom, general practitioners are left to give reassurance and general advice. They occasionally resort to prescribing, as in this case history, often using something like prochlorperazine or metoclopramide, for which there are few data on effectiveness or safety in pregnancy.


    • Competing interests RG is a trustee of the charity pregnancysicknesssupport, which has received an unrestricted educational grant from Duchesnay of Canada.


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