How to detect a pseudopregnancy or False pregnancy?

Symptoms of pregnancy can sometimes hide a phantom pregnancy also known as pseydocyesis. Even when there is no longer a rule, when the belly starts to round out gradually, these symptoms can sometimes hide a false pregnancy. This psychosomatic phenomenon affects about 6 women out of 22,000. It is therefore very rare. How does the body manage to react and create such symptoms when there is no fertilisation or embryo? The causes of a phantom pregnancy often have a psychological cause. Phantom pregnancy or pregnancy? What should be done to detect a phantom pregnancy? Are there treatments and care?

Couple with pseudopregnancy

What is a phantom pregnancy ?

 The term "phantom pregnancy" is not strictly speaking medical, but it does reflect a reality that affects some women. It is not a physical phenomenon, but a psychological one, which is defined as the conviction and sensation of being pregnant. In the case of pseudocyesis, the body reacts with real symptoms of pregnancy. It presents all the clinical signs of a classic pregnancy. The woman's belly begins to round, menstruation stops, nausea may appear even though no fertilisation has taken place. In this case there is neither foetus nor embryo. This disorder can be the physical manifestation of many underlying causes.

Symptoms of false pregnancy

A woman who develops a phantom pregnancy can have absolutely all the symptoms of a real pregnancy. According to the testimonies of patients who have experienced a phantom pregnancy, there may be a painful and swollen breast sensation, a concrete weight gain, a rounded and swollen belly etc. In some cases, women even experience spasms that are reminiscent of the movements of babies moving in a belly. But then how do you detect a phantom pregnancy?

The only way for the doctor to check his doubts outside of medical examinations is to check the size of the uterus and to perceive, or not, a heartbeat. The illusion is so realistic that the only way to check whether the pregnancy is nervous or real is to carry out a test or an ultrasound.

The symptoms of pseudocyesis can last for several weeks, months (the time of a pregnancy) or even years. It is therefore important to have an adapted treatment.

How can such concrete symptoms be explained?

Psychological and psychosomatic causes

Phantom pregnancy is a somatoform disorder. This physical manifestation usually reflects an extremely powerful desire or fear of having a child. It can especially affect women who are unable to have a child and yet have a strong desire to do so. Conversely, the fear and anxiety of potentially becoming pregnant can also lead to a phantom pregnancy. Thus, this phenomenon primarily affects young women, but also older women.

In both cases, the extreme desire or deep anxiety to become pregnant has a direct impact on the hormones and nervous system that act on the body.

However, other elements or events can trigger a phantom pregnancy. Physical problems or psychological problems may be involved. The loss of a child, a miscarriage, a voluntary termination of pregnancy, an inability to conceive children, family problems or a period of intense stress can cause such symptoms.

Purely physical causes

Pseudocyesis can however have purely physical causes. They can be due to hormonal imbalances, ovarian tumours or abdominal or pelvic tumours. Menopausal symptoms can also be the cause of a phantom pregnancy. Finally, a high level of HCG can also result from tumours.

However, these symptoms are rarer than psychosomatic symptoms.

What is the management of a phantom pregnancy?

Psychological care

Phantom pregnancy is the physical manifestation of mental or psychological disorders that are closely related to the desire or fear of having a child. It is a phenomenon of somatisation, i.e. the body expresses intra-psychic suffering or psycho-social problems.

Women who undergo a phantom pregnancy suffer from stress, tension or real repressed problems. The body therefore needs to externalize the inner suffering, which is why pregnancy symptoms manifest themselves. Sometimes, talking to a psychologist or doctor can make these symptoms disappear.

As a false pregnancy is the manifestation of a psychological problem, the only possible treatment will be carried out by a listening professional, i.e. a psychotherapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. The patient needs to externalize her suffering and thoughts in order to become aware of the real causes that led to this phantom pregnancy.

Long-term work for the patient

However, the difficulty of treatment is that this disorder needs a multidisciplinary approach. A doctor, a gynaecologist and a psychiatrist will then be required to follow up in order to avoid any recurrence. Because a phantom pregnancy can have an extremely negative impact on the patient's mental health. The disappointment of not getting pregnant in the end can cause great suffering. The patient will therefore have to learn to reconnect with her body, with her feelings and above all to overcome her fears and anxieties.

The main aim of the treatment is to avoid emotional distress while convincing the patient that she is not expecting a child.

The treatment will therefore not be easy for the patient. In contrast to medical treatment or surgery, psychological work requires a great deal of investment and willingness on the part of the patient. It is therefore work that must be carried out over time.

The causes and problems that have caused the pseudocyesis are analysed and dissected by the patient and the medical professional or psychotherapist. The patient will also need external support from her relatives and partner. The diagnosis will indicate whether the patient is at risk of remission or relapse. Depending on the diagnosis, the patient will need to be followed up for varying lengths of time.

Management of a phantom pregnancy can vary. Some people will only need psychological therapy, others will need antidepressants.

Specific treatments for physical causes

In case of physical problems such as tumours expressed previously, specific medical follow-up will obviously be required. Chemotherapy may be required. In case of high HCG levels, hormonal treatment will be required.

Nervous or phantom pregnancy is generally not serious from a physical point of view, except in the case of a tumour. However, the psychological impact of the diagnosis of pseudocyesis can have a negative impact on the patient believing herself to be pregnant. Medical, gynaecological, psychological and therapeutic follow-up is therefore extremely important.