She believes that she is pregnant only for her to discover that the symptoms are just look- alike

Emobileclinic Trending Topic: False Pregnancy

Emobileclinic Specialist

Pregnancy, an exciting time for expectant parents, doesn’t always end with the anticipated baby. In rare cases, a woman (or even a man) believes she is pregnant, only to find out that her symptoms were caused not by pregnancy, but by something else entirely.

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Pseudocyesis is the medical term for a false pregnancy which can cause many of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, and often resembles the condition in every way except for the absence of a fetus. People with pseudocyesis have many, if not all, symptoms of pregnancy, with the exception of an actual fetus. This unusual condition accounts for one to six out of every 22,000 live births. In rare cases, even men can have a false pregnancy. Some men experience a related phenomenon known as couvade, or sympathetic pregnancy. They will develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners, including weight gain, nausea, and backache.

Pseudocyesis has been observed and written about since antiquity. Hippocrates set down the first written account around 300 B.C., and recorded 12 different cases of women with the disorder. One of the most famous historical examples is Mary Tudor (1516-1558), Queen of England, who believed on more than one occasion that she was pregnant when she was not. Some even attribute the violence that gave her the nickname “Bloody Mary” as a reaction to the disappointment of finding out that she was not carrying a child. Other historians believe that the queen’s physicians mistook fibroid tumors in her uterus for a pregnancy, as fibroids can enlarge a nonpregnant uterus.

Causes of False Pregnancy?

Only recently have doctors begun to understand the psychological and physical issues that are at the root of pseudocyesis. Although the exact causes still aren’t known, doctors suspect that psychological factors may trick the body into “thinking” that it’s pregnant.

When a woman feels an intense desire to get pregnant, which may be because of infertility, repeat miscarriages, impending menopause, or a desire to get married, her body may produce some pregnancy signs (such as a swollen belly, enlarged breasts, and even the sensation of fetal movement). The woman’s brain then misinterprets those signals as pregnancy, and triggers the release of hormones (such as estrogen and prolactin) that lead to actual pregnancy symptoms.

Some researchers have suggested that poverty, a lack of education, childhood sexual abuse, or relationship problems might play a role in triggering false pregnancy. Having a false pregnancy is not the same as claiming to be pregnant for a benefit (for example, to profit financially), or having delusions of pregnancy (such as in patients with schizophrenia).

Symptoms of False Pregnancy

The symptoms of pseudocyesis are similar to the symptoms of true pregnancy and are often hard to distinguish from such natural signs of pregnancy including:

  • Interruption of the menstrual period

  • Swollen belly

  • Enlarged and tender breasts, changes in the nipples, and possibly milk production

  • Feeling of fetal movements

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Weight gain

These symptoms can last for just a few weeks, for nine months, or even for several years. A very small percentage of patients with false pregnancy will arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital with what feels like labor pains.

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Tests for False Pregnancy

To determine whether a woman is experiencing a false pregnancy, the doctor will usually evaluate her symptoms, perform a pelvic exam and abdominal ultrasound — the same tests used to feel and visualize the unborn baby during a normal pregnancy.

In a case of false pregnancy, no baby will be seen on the ultrasound, and there won’t be any heartbeat. Sometimes, however, the doctor will find some of the physical changes that occur during pregnancy, such as an enlarged uterus and softened cervix. Urine pregnancy tests will always be negative in these cases, with the exception of rare cancers that produce similar hormones to pregnancy.

Certain medical conditions can mimic the symptoms of pregnancy, including ectopic pregnancy, morbid obesity, and cancer. These conditions may need to be ruled out with tests.

Treatment of False pregnancy

Because pseudocyesis is not known to have a direct underlying physical cause, there are no general recommendations regarding treatment with medications. In some cases, however, the patient may be given medications for such symptoms as the cessation of menstruation. Because most patients with pseudocyesis have underlying psychological problems, they should be referred to a psychotherapist for the treatment of these problems. It is important at the same time, however, for the treating professional not to minimize the reality of the patient’s physical symptoms.

The treatment that has had the most success is demonstrating to the patient that she is not really pregnant by the use of ultrasound or other imaging techniques.


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