THE English novelist Charlotte Bronte died an awful death in 1855. Faint, exhausted and a slave to incessant nausea and vomiting for months, the fragile writer was unable to stomach food and water despite wearily trying to summon strength.
Dehydrated and delirious, with no medicine to save her, Bronte died while four months' pregnant from the effects of an illness now suffered by Kate Middleton and still inflicting misery on pregnant women - hyperemesis gravidarum, excessive, persistent vomiting and nausea that can linger for an entire pregnancy.
''A wren would have starved on what she ate during those last six weeks,'' a friend of Bronte's is reported to have said.
Left untreated, hyperemesis patients lose weight because they are unable to eat or drink without vomiting. A Sydney GP and sufferer, Melinda Griffiths, likened the feeling to a continuing bout of gastroenteritis. It was like being on the cusp of vomiting, without respite.
''You can feel your mouth drooling, you feel really, really nauseous. You can't get comfortable,'' Dr Griffiths said. ''It feels like you're stuck at that point because even after a vomit you might get relief but if you do, it will be short-lived. I felt well enough for five, 10 minutes and then it would come back. It just felt like being caught in that stage for week after week.''
Treatment includes intravenous fluids and anti-nausea medication, but nobody knows why the condition afflicts up to 3 per cent of pregnant women.
There are some who are at greater risk: those who have had a previous hyperemesis pregnancy and those carrying twins. Its recurrence rate has been estimated at up to 95 per cent.