Phantom Pregnancy

What Is Pseudocyesis?

Pseudocyesis or false pregnancy is also referred to as phantom pregnancy or hysterical pregnancy. It can be defined as appearance of subclinical or clinical symptoms related to pregnancy when the woman is actually not pregnant.
Pregnancy is surely the most amazing and the most sought after aspect of a married life. But not all pregnancies end with the birth of a healthy baby. There are few women who perceive that they are pregnant and later become disheartened to find out that the symptoms were actually not caused by pregnancy.

What causes Phantom Pregnancy?

The actual cause of false pregnancy is yet to be unknown.
Recently the doctors have started focusing on the physical and psychological aspect of becoming pregnant. Sometimes it is the psychological aspect that tricks the woman into believing and thinking that she is ‘pregnant’. The inherent desire to get pregnant makes a woman feel that she is having pregnancy symptoms and the same signal is sent to the brain. The brain then produces pregnancy hormones but for actually, this is a false pregnancy or pseudocyesis. It is the belief where a woman considers herself to be pregnant and expects a baby where actually she is not carrying one.

The woman’s intense desire to be pregnant particularly in infertile women, women having repeated miscarriages or approaching menopause are more prone to experience pseudocyesis. Signs associated with pregnancy such as swollen belly, enlarged breasts, etc are perceived as signs of actual pregnancy by woman’s brain.
Pseudocyesis has complex involvement of endocrine, cortical, hypothalamic and psychological factors. Pseudocyesis has complex involvement of endocrine, cortical, hypothalamic and psychological factors. According to experts, pseudocyesis is the outcome of stress load on ‘hypothamo-pituitary-adrenal’ axis, weight gain constipation and the intestinal gas movement.

Some experts believe that inadequate education, childhood sexual abuse, relationship issues, and poverty have a substantial role in triggering pseudocyesis.

Signs and Symptoms of Hysterical Pregnancy

A phantom or a false pregnancy is also marked by symptoms like the real pregnancy. The woman experience symptoms identical to pregnancy and it often become quite baffling for her. Following symptoms are experienced by females with pseudocyesis:

  1. Amenorrheoa
  2. Morning sickness
  3. Swollen belly
  4. Tender and enlarged breasts
  5. Changes in coloration of nipples
  6. Sometimes milk production from breasts
  7. Interruption of the menstrual period
  8. Perception of fetal movements
  9. Nausea and vomiting
  10. Weight gain
  11. Uterine enlargement
  12. Softening of cervix

Such symptoms can be seen only for few weeks or even for nine months. A small fraction of psuedocyesis patients even land up in hospitals with ‘labor pains’ like pains.
False Pregnancy

Characterstics of a False Pregnancy
  • The hallmark characteristic sign of false pregnancy is the strong conviction in the woman that she is pregnant. 60-70 percent of pseudocyesis patients experience abdominal distension identical to pregnancy. The distension usually resolves in general anesthesia and her distended abdomen returns to non pregnant size
  • Menstrual irregularity is the second characteristic sign of pseudocyesis and is seen in around 50-90 percent patients
  • Sensation of fetal movement or quickening is also an important symptom experienced by majority of pseudocyesis patients
Diagnosis Of Phantom Pregnancy

Following steps are taken to diagnose a phantom pregnancy:

  1. In order to assess whether a woman is actually pregnant or she is experiencing phantom pregnancy, the doctor performs her pelvic examination and advices abdominal ultrasonography
  2. Urine test is also perfumed but it is not a very reliable tests. Ultrasonography is the most trusted and ultimate test. There will be no fetal heart beat heard and no fetus will be seen in uterus
  3. There are few medical conditions (ectopic pregnancyic pregnancy, morbid obesity, etc.) that can present pregnancy-like symptoms. These conditions should be ruled out with
  4. appropriate tests

Sometimes women even pretend to be pregnant. In true pseudocyesis, a woman actually feels lie a pregnant women. If a woman consciously and intentionally pretends pregnancy, the condition is called simulated pregnancy.

Treatment of False Pregnancy

The doctors are required to tell the woman very gently the news and should provide her the much needed psychological support such as meditation therapy, etc. This will help the patient of pseudocyesis from recuperating from the obvious disappointment.
Since false pregnancy is concerned with the psychological aspect of a woman. The doctors also sometimes advise her medications to treat symptoms like cessation of periods, nausea, vomiting, etc.

Psychotherapy can also be helpful in curing psychological aspect of the patient.

Emotional support from the husband and the family is very important in combating with her condition. Psychiatrist counseling is also very beneficial in explaining her true situation and empowering her with the much needed strength to deal with her false pregnancy.