Pseudocyesis or False Pregnancy

· March 18, 2019
Read all about false pregnancy or pseudocyesis in this article!

False pregnancy is also known as pseudocyesis. John Mason Good first coined the term in 1823 and experts now consider it the most distressing psychosomatic condition in medical literature.

Pseudocyesis is the only psychosomatic condition whose psychological etiology doesn’t leave room for doubt. On the other hand, men can experience it too. False pregnancy has been put into different categories of psychiatric disorders, such as conversion disorders or hysterical conversion disorders.

Pseudocyesis is a somatoform disorder, meaning that those who have a hidden emotional need, such as anxiety or lack of affection, manifest it through physical symptoms.

What is pseudocyesis?

Pseudocyesis is when a woman thinks she’s pregnant without really being pregnant. In fact, she might even show signs and symptoms of early pregnancy.

This is a very important characteristic of somatoform disorders. It’s highly common in those who have problems identifying their feelings and talking about them (a personality construct called alexithymia) and that’s why they express it with a “hidden language.” In this case, through a false pregnancy.

“Whether your pregnancy was meticulously planned, medically coaxed, or happened by surprise, one thing is certain — your life will never be the same.”

-Catherine Jones-

A pregnant woman with question marks on her belly.

Who does pseudocyesis affect?

According to psychiatry experts, pseudocyesis affects 1 to 6 women in 22.000. Paddock divided women who suffer from pseudocyesis or psychological pregnancy into three categories:

  • Young women who just got married or single young women that engage in risky sexual behavior. In this case, pseudocyesis manifests due to their fear of getting pregnant.
  • Older women with a strong desire to become pregnant or infertile women who are starting to realize they’re not young anymore and have been suffering from age-related pains. The inability to become a mom makes the desire stronger, which turns into an obsession as they become older and get closer to menopause.
  • Women of a certain age that experience amenorrhea. In these cases, they almost always believe that they’re still fertile.

Signs and symptoms of false pregnancy

After studying a series of reported cases, Barglow and Brown summed up pseudocyesis symptoms:

  • Menstrual disorders that range from amenorrhea to hypomenorrhea. They last for about nine months (about the same time as a real pregnancy).
  • Increase in abdominal size without a protruding belly button, originated by the lordosis posture that the woman adopts and also caused by abdominal distension. An inverted belly button allows doctors to know for sure that it’s not a real pregnancy.
  • Breast changes such as tenderness, colostrum production, pigmentation, and increase in size.
  • Subjective sensation of fetal movement.
  • Softening and enlargement of the uterus, with the possibility of pelvic congestion syndrome.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Weight gain, usually more than in normal pregnancies.
  • Some patients may also experience high levels of gonadotropin.

Sometimes, the symptoms can be so real and similar to those of real pregnancy that they may even deceive doctors.

“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.”

-Elizabeth Stone-

A woman with ovary pain.

Treatment for pseudocyesis

It’s not easy to convince a woman that she’s not pregnant when she’s been thinking she is for months. In general, it’s hard to make her see that she’s living in an illusion she created in her own head. More often than not, pseudocyesis is the escape route her brain found to deal with psychological difficulties.

Thus, it’s convenient to diagnose this issue as soon as possible. It’s necessary to do different blood tests and sonograms to convince the patient that she’s not pregnant. The treatment in these cases is more psychological than pharmacological. Specialists have to analyze why the patient invented the pregnancy and what internal conflict led her to that situation.

Gynecologically speaking, there’s no need for treatment, unless the patient still believes that she’s pregnant.

  • Barglow, P.; Brown, E.: Pseudocyesis. To Be and not to be pregnant: a psycosomatic question. En Modern perspectives in psycho-obstetrics. Edted by John Howells. Brunner Mazed Publishers. NY,1972.Paddock, R.: Spurious pregnancy. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 16:845, 1928.
  • Paddock, R.: Spurious pregnancy. Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 16:845, 1928.