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Phantom Pregnancy
(False Pregnancy/Pseudocyesis): Signs, Symptoms And Treatment

A phantom pregnancy, or false pregnancy, which is otherwise known as a pseudocyesis, is a condition in which a non-pregnant woman has all the symptoms of pregnancy and firmly believes that she is pregnant.

A woman who is suffering from a pseudocyesis will visit her doctor or the antenatal clinic complaining of all the symptoms and minor discomforts of early pregnancy, including absence of her periods, breast enlargement and breast changes, nausea and vomiting, increase of weight and abdominal distension.
Phantom Pregnancy

The clinical diagnosis of early pregnancy is extremely difficult, especially if you have a slightly enlarged uterus or is overweight, and it may be virtually impossible to confirm or deny the presence of a pregnancy by clinical examination alone.

Since it is not the normal practice to perform pregnancy tests upon anyone who attends an antenatal clinic, you will probably be accepted as being pregnant and booked for confinement.

The symptoms of pregnancy will continue and as you gain more weight you will become increasingly convinced about the presence of pregnancy, although the fact that you are suffering from pseudocyesis may gradually become apparent.

Phantom pregnancy is extremely rare and it must not be confused with a woman who, having missed one, or perhaps two periods, has no symptoms of pregnancy but visits her doctor to find out why she has missed them, and to ascertain whether or not she is pregnant.

The very small group of women who suffer from pseudocyesis are convinced about their pregnancy.

It is a condition that occurs mainly in women in their late thirties or early forties who desperately want a child and have been trying to become pregnant for many years.

It can also occur in younger women, especially when relatives and friends are having babies or asking and joking about the girls ability to become pregnant.

Women who suffer from phantom/false pregnancies are normally emotionally quite stable but may become very unstable over the question of pregnancy.

Phantom pregnancy also occurs in some women who have lost a pregnancy or a baby.

It may be an emotional reaction, but, in this case, there is increasing scientific evidence to indicate that a temporary hormone imbalance is the cause of all their symptoms.

The diagnosis of phantom pregnancy is extremely difficult, especially at the beginning of a false pregnancy.

The uterus will remain normal in size and successive pregnancy tests, if performed, will be negative.

As the false pregnancy proceeds, a marked increase in weight may occur, together with abdominal and breast enlargement, but the uterus will not enlarge nor will the breasts show active signs of pregnancy.

None of the other physical signs of pregnancy will develop and all tests for pregnancy will be negative.

A woman who is suffering from true phantom pregnancy will insist that she is pregnant despite the assurance that she is not.

The problem requires very careful and sympathetic consideration with kindly explanation to the patient as to the reasons why she is not pregnant, together with appropriate proof that a pregnancy does not exist, although she may find even this difficult to accept.

Severe emotional disturbance may follow the realization that she is suffering from a false pregnancy and the husband should also be acquainted with all the facts and treated with complete confidence, because his help is invaluable.

Signs And Symptoms

The symptom of phantom pregnancy (pseudocyesis) are similar to the symptoms of true pregnancy and are often hard to distinguish from it.

Such natural signs as amenorrhoea, morning sickness, tender breasts, and weight gain may all be present.

Many health care professionals can be deceived by the symptoms associated with pseudocyesis.

Research shows that 18% of women with pseudocyesis were at one time diagnosed as pregnant by medical professionals.

The hallmark sign of pseudocyesis that is common to all cases is that the affected patient is convinced that she is pregnant.

Abdominal distension is the most common physical symptom of pseudocyesis.

The abdomen expands in the same manner as it does during pregnancy, so that the affected woman looks pregnant.

These symptoms often resolve under general anesthesia and the woman's abdomen returns to its normal size.

The second most common physical sign of pseudocyesis is menstrual irregularity. Women are also reported to experience the sensation of fetal movements known as quickening, even though there is no foetus present.

Other common signs and symptoms include gastrointestinal symptoms, breast changes or secretions, labour pains, uterine enlargement, and softening of the cervix.


Phantom pregnancy is not known to have a direct underlying physical cause and 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.

When some patients with a phantom pregnancy 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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