Pregnancy is a life-altering event in a woman’s life and a much-anticipated one. While most women do conceive naturally, a very rare and uncommon phenomenon tends to affect 1 in 22000 women. This phenomenon is called as Pseudocyesis or a phantom pregnancy.
In this, the woman strongly believes that she is carrying a child or a foetus with all the accompanying signs and symptoms of a pregnancy. Although the woman may physically show all the symptoms of pregnancy, there is no actual foetus in the womb and this can be confirmed after doing an ultrasound.
It is very common in women who are in their early child bearing years. In exceptionally rare cases, men too may exhibit all signs and symptoms of a false pregnancy.
Causes Of A Phantom Pregnancy
One of the biggest factors behind the occurrence of a false or phantom pregnancy is the woman’s psychological state. Repeated instances of miscarriage or incurable infertility may create an intense physical desire in the woman for a child. This may actually lead to a stage where the mind tricks the body into believing that it is pregnant and starts exhibiting all the physical signs of pregnancy.
The woman’s brain may misinterpret the signs and triggers the release of hormones that lead to actual pregnancy symptoms.
Familial problems, poverty, abuse and lack of education may also lead to the development of a false pregnancy
Symptoms Of A False Pregnancy
The symptoms of a false pregnancy are same as those of an actual pregnancy. The women may experience a cessation of her periods, extreme nausea and vomiting, abdominal distension, breast tenderness, weight gain and foetal movements. These symptoms can last for a few weeks, a few months or even years and women are known to arrive at the doctor’s office with complaints of actual labour pains.
Certain tests are also conducted to ascertain the occurrence of a pregnancy. These are a routine pelvic exam and an ultrasound to detect the baby. Of course the ultrasound and the pelvic exam will show no baby and heart beat though the uterus will appear large and the cervix soft. Other conditions that may show the same symptoms may also need to be ruled out by the doctor.
Treatment involving a phantom pregnancy envisages long term counselling and psychotherapy to enable women to come to terms with the fact that they are not actually pregnant. Most women suffer from acute distress on knowing that they are not pregnant especially if they have carried the baby in their womb for a long time.
A psychologist may be consulted to help the woman cope with her loss. Underlying psychological and physical issues like infertility may also need to be ascertained and treated. While this condition is rare, it is very much treatable through supportive counselling, physical management of the patient and therapy.