Pseudociesis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

A woman’s intuition is a curious thing, most of them know they are pregnant before they have advanced enough to be tested, we know our bodies, and when something is different, we can feel it. How about a phantom pregnancy? There are times when even a woman’s intuition is out of place, and our body tells us that we are pregnant when in reality, we are not; this is a phenomenon called Pseudociesis or false pregnancy.

Pregnancy is an exciting time for women; it is a highlight in life that will bring significant changes and bring many physical and emotional symptoms. A woman can feel complete and fulfilled when she knows that she will become a mother. But what happens when it isn’t?

What is pseudocyesis?

It is a rare but debilitating somatic disorder in which a woman shows external signs of pregnancy, although it is not severe. Women with low socioeconomic status, limited access to health care, and who feel under significant stress to conceive are the most at risk for this disorder.

Although depression is common comorbidity and pseudocyesis, endocrine disorders that mimic PCOS signs have been documented; this complex range of concerns requires an understanding of the differences and similar treatment options.

In other words, pseudocyesis is a condition in which a woman thinks she is pregnant, but conception has not occurred, and a baby is not forming within her. The standard and often long-lasting symptoms of pregnancy help reinforce this idea, leading a woman to be sure that she is waiting for months or even years.


What are the symptoms of pseudocyesis or a false pregnancy?

A false pregnancy often resembles pregnancy in every way except in the presence of a baby. In all cases, the woman is sure that she is pregnant.

Physically, the most common symptom is a distended abdomen, similar to a baby lump; the belly may begin to expand in the same way as during pregnancy when a developing baby grows. During a false pregnancy, this abdominal extension is not the result of a baby. Instead, it is believed to be caused by a build-up of:

  • Gas.
  • Feces.
  • Urine.

The irregularity of a woman’s menstrual cycle is the second most common physical symptom. Half and three-quarters of the women who experienced pseudocyesis reported feeling the baby move. Many also report feeling the baby kick, even though a baby was never present.

Other symptoms can be just as difficult to distinguish from those experienced during an actual pregnancy and can include:

  • Morning sickness and vomiting
  • Sensitive breasts.
  • Changes in the breasts, including size and pigmentation.
  • Lactation.
  • Weight gain.
  • Pregnancy pain.
  • Inverted navel.
  • Increased appetite
  • Enlargement of the uterus.
  • Softening of the cervix.
  • False delivery.

These symptoms can be so credible that doctors can even be misled.

What Causes Pseudocyesis?

The root of phantom pregnancy is believed to be an interaction between the reproductive system and the mind, postulated to be mediated by hormonal aberrations; this is interrelated with three factors that can cause feelings of false pregnancy.

The first of these is intense desire or fear of pregnancy, which can operate in the following situations:

  • Infertility
  • A woman who marries a second or marries a previously married man.
  • Repeated abortions.
  • After operations on the reproductive organs.
  • When the woman wants to pressure a man to marry.

Some situations that are susceptible to producing a phantom pregnancy include:

  • Pelvic tumors
  • Abdominal tumors
  • Aging processes such as perimenopausal symptoms.
  • Galactorrhea is due to hormone-secreting pituitary tumors known as prolactinomas.
  • Pregnancy symptoms due to elevated levels of beta-HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), also known as the pregnancy hormone, as part of the paraneoplastic phenomena in bronchogenic carcinoma.
  • I was bloating the body, sometimes due to various medications such as oral contraceptives.

In a few cases, false pregnancy can be the result of an actual physical symptom, such as an ovarian tumor, a history of depression, as well as previous medical problems, including the inability to conceive, multiple miscarriages, or the loss of a child as well. May contribute to this erroneous claim. Sexual abuse can also play a role, as past abuse can leave a person more vulnerable to many psychological problems and insecurities.

But for the most part, pseudocyesis is not a condition with an easily identifiable cause. It is the manifestation of psychosis for some, but for others, it may simply result from a powerful desire to be pregnant. Other women have a dissociative disorder, which means that they partially enter another mental state while the rest of their thinking remains rational.

It is difficult to obtain reliable data on false pregnancies due to the very nature of the condition. Some patients can be persuaded by the lack of confirmatory tests, but others stop going to the doctor for prenatal care. When it becomes apparent that there is no baby, many women postpone their claimed due date to a later date and continue to insist that they are expecting a baby.

How is false pregnancy or pseudocyesis diagnosed?

There are several ways to diagnose a false pregnancy. Some of these include:

  • Blood tests to determine pregnancy.
  • Urine test to detect pregnancy.

Although the above two methods commonly diagnose pregnancy, they are not reliable and false pregnancy tests. An ultrasound test of the abdomen and pelvis area will need to establish a pregnancy. In the case of a false pregnancy, the ultrasound will not show a heartbeat, nor will a fetus be seen.

Other conditions could cause pregnancy symptoms, such as obesity or ovarian cysts; tests will need to be done to diagnose these conditions.

It is important not to confuse a false pregnancy with a false positive on the pregnancy test. This is often due to hormonal interference during the menstrual cycle, which cross-reacts with the testing process. A woman may also receive a false positive pregnancy test because she did have a pregnancy, but at a later time, it was spontaneously lost.

How common is false pregnancy?

The concept of pseudocyesis is nothing new; Hippocrates is credited for the first account written in 300 BC. Mary Tudor is a famous historical example. Cases of pseudocyesis have declined significantly in the United States over the last century.

In the 1940s, false pregnancy cases occurred in approximately 1 in 250 pregnancies; that number has dropped to between 1 and 6 points per 22,000 births.

The average age of a woman experiencing a phantom pregnancy is 33 years. However, cases have been reported in children as young as six years of age and women as young as 79 years. About one-third of women with pseudocyesis have been pregnant at least once before, and more than two-thirds are married. Women who have experienced incest may be at higher risk of experiencing false pregnancies.

False pregnancies have become quite rare in countries with easy access to accurate pregnancy tests. Some cultures link the value of women to their ability to conceive, and pseudocyesis is seen at higher rates in these parts of the world.

How to treat a false pregnancy or pseudocyesis?

There are two factors to consider when it comes to a false pregnancy; if any physical or physiological reason has caused the condition, this will be treated first. The treatment plan includes medication, lifestyle changes, and even meditation for cystic ovaries.

If the false pregnancy is caused by a psychological reason, it will have to be treated with the help of psychiatrists and therapists.

In any case, the woman could have been involved in the idea of ​​being pregnant, part of the pregnancy; she could also have prepared to raise a child. Once it is established that the pregnancy is false, the woman will need a lot of care.

The dream of having a child is very dear, and having such unfounded hopes can be emotionally challenging for the woman; it is better that you talk with your doctor and also a therapist to make peace with this apparent loss. A fake pregnancy looks and feels like any other, but it is not a natural pregnancy; there is no fetus, and it is caused by several factors; it is best to confirm your pregnancy with ultrasound as it is the most reliable test.

False pregnancies appear to occur disproportionately in women who experience psychological instability. For that reason, they must be under the care of a psychotherapist for their treatment.

How to help?

  • Acknowledge that the woman involved has experienced trauma and is in mourning.
  • If she confides in you the truth, her prior knowledge about pseudocyesis will be helpful. You can offer support by saying that you know this happens sometimes and that you are sorry for the pain that he must be experiencing.

In many cases, she will not mention the cause of the loss of a pregnancy that she has shown and talked about with pride. If the cause is not disclosed, you will be relating and responding to it precisely as you would any woman who has suffered a pregnancy loss.

Acknowledge the loss by saying you are sorry and show compassion; you can start by telling him how sad you are for his loss, hugging him, and leaving room for him to respond; this says a lot about emotional support.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.