Pregnancy symptoms seem clear-cut to most women: nausea, fatigue, swollen breasts, etc. But sometimes, that’s not the case. It’s more commonly known as phantom pregnancy and by the clinical term pseudocyesis. False (Phantom) pregnancy leads women to think they are pregnant. She will even suffer all the classic signs and symptoms of pregnancy.
It is not related to a miscarriage. In a false (Phantom) pregnancy, there is no conception and there is no child. Despite this, symptoms may continue to appear for a long time enough for people to mistakenly think that a woman is expecting.
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What are the causes of false (Phantom) pregnancy?
Several psychological experts believe this condition is connected with an intense desire or fear of becoming pregnant. This can affect the endocrine system and in turn, lead to symptoms of pregnancy. The third major theory suggests emotional trauma may have contributed.
Another theory is that women misinterpret certain changes in their bodies, perhaps after experiencing miscarriages or infertility, as being signs that they may be pregnant, simply because they are always in the hope of becoming pregnant.
Some chemical changes in the nervous system may be responsible for symptoms of false (Phantom) pregnancy. The third theory is related to certain chemical changes that are related to depressive disorders.
A false (Phantom) pregnancy usually manifests in the following symptoms:
Often, a false (Phantom) pregnancy looks and feels like pregnancy, but does not involve a baby. These women are utterly convinced that they are pregnant.
It’s common for women to have a distended belly, like just after pregnancy. The belly will expand only after a baby is born. During a false (Phantom) pregnancy, this abdominal expansion is not caused by a baby. Rather, it’s believed to be a consequence of :
Most women say they have experienced feeling the baby move and have also referred to feeling the kick, even though there was never a baby present. Semi- and three-quarters of women who suffer from pseudocyesis experienced feeling the baby move.
It is very difficult to distinguish between symptoms experienced during an actual pregnancy and that which are experienced during a period after conception, and they can include:
- Vomiting and morning sickness
- tender breasts
- Breast changes, including the breasts’ size and pigmentation
- weight gain
- labor pains
- inverted bellybutton
- increased appetite
- enlargement of the uterus
- softening of the cervix
- false labor
Symptoms that sound so plausible can actually lead doctors to be deceived.
Does false (Phantom) pregnancy have a treatment?
The best way to end the false (Phantom) pregnancy is to prove to her she is not pregnant. Ultrasound is one of the most effective ways to bolster the woman’s belief that she is not pregnant.
It is not thought that false (Phantom) pregnancies are caused by physical symptoms, therefore, no general advice is available for treating them. However, if women report symptoms like irregular menstruation, medication may be prescribed.
Female patients that are experiencing psychological instability are more prone to have false (Phantom) pregnancies. For that reason, treatment should be provided by a therapist.
False (Phantom) pregnancy: how common is it?
There has been a significant drop in cases of pseudocyesis in the United States over the last century. Hippocrates was credited with writing about it in 300 B.C. Mary Tudor is also known for her fake pregnancy.
In the 1940s, about one in 250 pregnancies resulted in a false (Phantom) pregnancy. Nowadays, the number of cases has decreased to one to six for every 22,000 births.
Women experiencing phantom pregnancy are generally between the ages of 33 and 64. However, there have been reports of women as young as 6 and girls as old as 79. About one-third of women with pseudocyesis have been pregnant at least once, and more than half are married.
False (Phantom) pregnancies are more likely to occur among women who have experienced incest.
Pseudocyesis is especially common in cultures that have limited access to accurate pregnancy tests. Some cultures are indifferent towards motherhood, and a woman’s worth is tied to her ability to get pregnant.
The symptoms of a false (Phantom) pregnancy might resemble those of a normal pregnancy, with one prominent difference. When you are falsely pregnant, there is simply no baby. Even if symptoms suggest otherwise, you aren’t pregnant. If you suspect you might be pregnant, consult your physician.
- Ibekwe, P. (2008, April). Psychosocial and cultural aspects of pseudocyesis. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 50(2), 112-116 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2738334
- Tarin, J. J., Hermenegildo, C., Garcia-Perez, M. A., & Cano, A. (2013, February 22). Endocrinology and physiology of pseudocyesis. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 11(39)
- Yadav, T. (2012, January). Pseudocyesis versus delusion of pregnancy: differential diagnoses to be kept in mind. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(1), 82-84 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3361851/