Pseudocyesis – What’s Phantom Pregnancy or False Pregnancy?

The human mind can play games. It can convince us to believe in things that don’t exist. One of such instances is Pseudocyesis. Behind this strange name is a  stranger phenomenon known as a false pregnancy or phantom pregnancy.

What is Pseudocyesis? 

False pregnancy tests are common but what is a false pregnancy?

Pseudocyesis is the term for the condition where a woman feels pregnant, looks pregnant, but is not pregnant.

She will have abdominal cramps, enlarged breasts, growing belly and even wreath in labor pain but will not deliver.

The real cause of Pseudocyesis remains undiscovered, whether a psychological disease or hormonal imbalance.

The main reason for this mystical condition not being clear is that the cases are acutely rare. Only 1 to 6 cases out of 22000 labor are because of Pseudocyesis.

The two syndromes Pseudocyesis and delusional pregnancy seem synonymous but are different. In Pseudocyesis, the falsely pregnant women show some symptoms of pregnancy.

Contrasting to that, a delusional pregnancy sufferer makes up things in her mind and may show no actual symptoms.

Another disease similar to these two is cryptic pregnancy where the woman who is pregnant does not come to know it until she goes into labor.

What is Pseudocyesis?
What is Pseudocyesis?

Pseudocyesis stories

Mistaking absence for the period as pregnancy is not uncommon. However, the case of pseudocyesis or false pregnancy is different in the sense that the woman has a delusion that she is pregnant.

You can read many historical accounts of pseudocyesis cases as early as 300 BC. Hippocrates reported 12 women who had pseudocyesis. 

The infamous slang Bloody Mary correlates to Mary Tudor, Queen of England who suffered multiple times from pseudocyesis.

Some accounts say that her physician could not diagnose uterine fibroids.

There have been cases where a childless woman suffering seclusion and depression got pregnant due to stress.

Such behavior is also common amongst woman undergoing psychotic treatments develops a desire to procreate along her therapist.

Finding solace in someone who sympathizes is natural but going to the extent of delusional pregnancy is a syndrome.

What causes false pregnancy (Phantom pregnancy)?

There is no specific cause of phantom pregnancy or false pregnancy. Some medical practitioners consider it as a mental disorder and others classify it as an endocrinology disorder.

Studies are still going on to decipher the difference between pseudocyesis and delusional pregnancy.

Top 10 Causes of False pregnancy or phantom pregnancy

1) Intense desire to procreate

Women who have a strong baseless desire to get pregnant can experience the syndrome. The cause of hysterical pregnancy is the delusion that happens because of obsession about being pregnant.

It doesn’t imply that the woman cannot get pregnant normally. Doctors have reported where a woman who was a mother had pseudocyesis later.

2) Considering pregnancy as s means to mend relationships

Giving birth to a child has long been believed to help prevent marriage breakdowns. However, the marriage suffers a crisis due to the crop up of an additional responsibility without mutual consent.

When there is a hysterical pregnancy, the woman is not pregnant; the responsibility part is not in question. But it appears to be a hoax for the other person or male partner unaware of the epidemiology of pseudocyesis.

3) Psychosis and psychotic drugs

Neurosis vs. psychosis is an exciting subject of mental health. When a person knows that something is with her mental state, it is a neurotic case. Once the person loses touch with reality and believes in his or her hallucinations and delusions, it is a psychotic case.

The reasons for false pregnancy are drugs given during psychosis that as a side effect raise levels of prolactin.

The strange pregnancy symptoms in the absence of fetus are because of these hormones. The hormones lead to a false pregnancy test and pseudopregnancy.

4) Depression because of miscarriage

Mental disorders and illness are far from being wholly studied. Probably never will the time come when there will be definite answers to questions related to mental illness.

Every individual responds differently to a shock or trauma. Feeling sad after miscarriage is normal, depression or long-term sadness can also occur. A woman convincing herself to believe that she is pregnant after a miscarriage is not normal.

But it happens, and many women do so and refuse to accept that it is delusional pregnancy.

5) Hormonal imbalance

Any other hormonal imbalance due to malfunction of reproductive glands can mimic pregnancy. It is not uncommon for sexually active females to have period cycle late by a week.

Women in their 40s undergoing Perimenopause phase can have such hormonal fluctuations. Cases like an absence of menstruation and cramps misdiagnosed as pregnancy by an old woman have been reported.

6) Uterine abnormalities

The explanation for Mary Tudor having multiple Pseudocyesis has a possible explanation as fibroids. Uterine fibroids can lead to an expansion of uterus. As the tumor growth leads to endometriosis engulfing other organs cessation of menstrual cycle occurs.

7) Pituitary damage

The pituitary gland releases the first hormones in the cascade of reproductive hormones. Damage or obstacle to normal functioning of the pituitary can cause psychosis.

It can be due to hallucinogens, barbiturates or amphetamine. Any tumors of pituitary, sleep disorder or chemical imbalance can also lead to it.

8) Stress, anxiety and emotional breakdown

Manic depressive disorder, Schizophrenia, and other psychotic illness can occur because of many reasons. Even untreated syphilis can lead to such consequences. 

Stress and anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or multiple personality disorder impair the brain.

The reason for not being able to get pregnant when under stress due to pronatalist culture is stress.

9) Sexual abuse

Incidents of sexual abuse leave such scars on memory that causes false pregnancy. The case of fake pregnancy is not simple and can be because of any such incident that affects reproductive and mental health.

Physical, mental and reproductive well being comprises health for this reason. There is an interdependence of the three. 

A traumatic experience such as rape or marital abuse is a plausible cause of pseudocyesis.

10) Infertility

False pregnancy tests again and again with the piling of frustration and hopelessness paints the sorry picture of a couple. Pseudocyesis is not restricted to women.

Have you heard strange news such as a man getting pregnant? It is because of pseudocyesis. 

Not being able to deal with emotional consequences of infertility is another reason for pseudocyesis.

11 Major symptoms of pseudocyesis are

  1. Enlargement of the uterus: The fibroids if present can cause such symptoms of hysterical pregnancy.
  2. Breasts changes such as soreness or feeling heavy: Placebo or feeling so because of hormone imbalance is not strange.
  3. Lack or absence of menstrual flow: The raised proactive levels suspend menstrual cycle just like during breastfeeding.
  4. Morning sickness or cravings
  5. Delusion and hallucinations of fetal movements: These may be because of bloating due to fibroids or gas distress.
  6. No heartbeat or fetus seen in ultrasound
  7. False positive pregnancy test: A false positive pregnancy test because of the altered hormones is not very rare
  8. Fake labor, labor pain and later delivering nothing
  9. Abdominal cramps and pain
  10. Emotionally imbalanced: If you are not the one who is experiencing such a situation and trying to test false pregnancy then look for mental health. Does the woman live in her world disconnected from reality? Is there a history of reproductive disorder? A woman showing symptoms of delusion, not convinced with rational argument logic, could be a patient.
  11. Weight gain due to any other reason is attributed to her to pregnancy.

Can you get a positive pregnancy test in phantom pregnancy?

A false positive pregnancy test can be because of elevated hCG hormone due to causes other than pregnancy. The causes of a positive pregnancy test in pseudocyesis are:

  1. Antidepressants and psychotic drugs have such side effects. The can elevate hCG levels or some isoform that will give a positive pregnancy test.
  2. The other reason for this situation could be the recent miscarriage. A woman in a state of shock after the miscarriage because of divorce or marriage upheaval can have pseudocyesis. The hCG levels from the previous pregnancy do return to normal yet. She will still have a positive pregnancy test.
  3. The brain itself has impaired function and can release hormones that elevate hCG.

Who are at risk of false phantom pregnancy?

There are four categories of women who are at risk of pseudocyesis.

  1. Women who are in their menopausal stage. The occurrence of losing their fertility and moving ahead in the last stage of life can be scary. The desire to experience youth and fertile phase causing emotional imbalance poses a risk of delusional pregnancy.
  2. A woman who recently had a miscarriage
  3. Infertile women
  4. Women living or influenced by pronatalist society

A deep-rooted desire to get pregnant can put men at risk of phantom pregnancy.

What is the test for pseudocyesis?

Doctors can conduct urine test or blood test to detect hCG levels for confirming pregnancy. An ultrasound scan shows the internal area of the womb.

The condition of the uterus is specific for every stage of pregnancy. When there is no fetus in ultrasound or the uterus has fibroids it confirms phantom pregnancy.

The patient will still insist that she is pregnant because of the desire to be a mother.

How to stop a phantom pregnancy?

Phantom pregnancy treatment involves curing the mental illness. Body thinking its pregnant is because of some psychological problem.

Any woman who tests negative for pregnancy will not believe otherwise. The doubt of being pregnant is way different from delusional pregnancy. You must not persuade the woman to come out of her delusional pregnancy aggressively.

Passive treatment of the condition along with taking care of other things will treat pseudocyesis.

The treatment of fibroids or other such conditions which are faking pregnancy symptoms is essential. But that cannot be the sole treatment.

If that were the only cause, the woman would be convinced when told rationally. When she is not ready to accept that she is pregnant only then you need treatment of pseudocyesis.

Otherwise, it is a normal case of uterine abnormality or fibroid.



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