What Are Phantom Pregnancies?

28 May, 2020
Phantom pregnancies, or pseudocyesis, is a psychological disorder that can affect women, regardless of their marital status or mental health.
 

Have you ever heard of pseudocyesis, also known as phantom pregnancies? It’s a psychological disorder that can appear in women between 20 and 40 years old. However, there are some known cases of women outside of this age range.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about phantom pregnancies, why they happen, and everything you need to know.

What are phantom pregnancies?

A woman talking about phantom pregnancies with her doctor.

Pseudocyesis is the medical term for a false pregnancy. In other words, the woman thinks she’s pregnant, but she’s not. So, what exactly are phantom pregnancies?

This disorder isn’t just a thought or feeling, but rather actually thinking you’re pregnant. In fact, this is evident not just emotionally, but also physically. The body acts as if there really is a fetus.

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Causes of phantom pregnancies

A woman with depression.
 

Stimulation of the neuroendocrine system by psychological factors is what many believe to be the cause of phantom pregnancies. For example, these include:

  • A feeling of loneliness and a desire to be a mother
  • Acute depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • The belief that, without a child, her husband or partner will abandon her
  • Social pressure to get pregnant
  • Extreme fear of becoming pregnant
  • Situations of sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence
  • Emotional stress
  • Infertility
  • Having experienced one of more miscarriages or having suffered the death of a child
  • Proximity to menopause and the desire to have children

Symptoms and diagnosis of phantom pregnancies

A woman experiencing morning sickness.

Phantom pregnancies aren’t very common. In fact, only about 1 in 22,000 pregnancies are psychological. Now, let’s talk about some of the symptoms of this disorder:

  • Lack of regulation: The LH and FSH hormones decrease. As a result, the woman doesn’t ovulate, and the menstrual cycle freezes.
  • Appearance of tiredness.
  • Feelings of nausea and even vomiting. This is due to an increase in prolactin and progesterone.
  • Breast enlargement and tenderness.
  • Abdomen growth.
 
  • Feeling like a fetus is moving in the stomach.
  • Milk production.
  • Contractions: If this disorder isn’t treated, the pregnancy, although false, will continue its course including the growth of the belly, feeling “kicks” from the baby and even labor pains.

Discover: Signs and Symptoms of Preterm Labor

As you can see, the mind influences the body by creating an organic response. Also, the hormones change, and the symptoms are similar to an ongoing pregnancy. For this reason, to make a diagnosis, it’s necessary to:

  • Have a pelvic exam.
  • Request a laboratory test: A urine or blood test will show the BhCG hormone level. When this test is negative, it usually shows phantom pregnancies.
  • Ultrasound: If there’s not a fetus in the uterus, it’s a clear diagnosis. Therefore, the woman is suffering a psychological disorder that needs to be treated as soon as possible.

If the woman were to produce milk, you would need to have tests to rule out the presence of a prolactinoma. In other words, that’s a tumor on the pituitary gland that could stimulate prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production.

Pseudocyesis treatment

A psychologist with a woman.
 

The doctor will tell you the best treatment according to your physical and emotional condition. Generally, it’s best to get a psychological consultation since it has a psychological origin.

The women’s mind has searched for an escape from her worries. Therefore, it’s necessary to treat her psychologically to treat her physical symptoms.

Pseudocyesis is a psychological disorder that can make those that have it feel ashamed. If this is your case, keep in mind that it’s not your fault that it’s happening to you. Trust your doctor and family to get through the process.

 
  • American Pregnancy Association. Pseudocyesis: What’s a False Pregnancy or Phantom Pregnancy? http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/pseudocyesis-false-pregnancy/
  • Datta, S., ed., Anesthetic and Obstetric Management of High-Risk Pregnancy, third ed., New York, Springer, 2004.
  • Tarin JJ, et al. 2013. Endocrinology and physiology of pseudocyesis. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology 11(1):39. https://rbej.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1477-7827-11-39
  • Gabbe S.G., Niebyl, J.R., Simpson, J.L., eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies, fifth ed., Philadelphia, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2007.