What is pseudocyesis?
Pseudocyesis is a false pregnancy. It is a rare condition in which a non-pregnant woman believes that she is pregnant, even though there is no medical evidence of pregnancy. Women with false pregnancy also known as pseudopregnancy or pseudocyesis will often experience real pregnancy symptoms. It occurs in about one to six of every 22,000 births in the United States.
What can cause a phantom pregnancy?
Although this condition has yet to be fully explained, experts believe that there is a strong emotional and psychological component underpinning pseudocyesis. Psychologists believe that women who experience false pregnancy have an extremely strong desire to be pregnant and experience the process of pregnancy. Women who have false pregnancies also tend to experience false pregnancy symptoms. Research has also linked false pregnancy to the pituitary gland (which is the center of hormone production during pregnancy) and specifically, to an unusually high level of hormones. This hormone imbalance is often sparked by stress and anxiety, which in turn causes the emotional and psychological shifts that lead a woman to falsely believe she is expecting.
What are the symptoms of a phantom pregnancy?
Women with a false or phantom pregnancy can have typical pregnancy symptoms such as:
- no period
- morning sickness
- weight gain
- widening of the abdomen
- enlargement of the breasts
It is medically unclear why women experiencing pseudopregnancy sometimes exhibit true physical signs of pregnancy.
How do you diagnose a phantom pregnancy?
A pregnancy test such as a urine test, a blood test or a sonogram will usually show no pregnancy, but nevertheless, women with pseudocyesis will insist they are pregnant due to a deeply-rooted desire to be pregnant.
Who is most at risk?
Women who are most at risk for pseudocyesis are:
- women in their late thirties or early forties, who have been trying to conceive for many years and who may have fertility problems
- women who are not generally emotionally unstable but who are extremely emotional with regard to pregnancy
- women who have suffered a miscarriage or who have lost a child
How do you treat a phantom pregnancy?
Psychological counseling is usually recommended in order to treat underlying emotional and psychological causes of false pregnancy, including stress, anxiety, and depression.