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What is Pseudocyesis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2018
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Pseudocyesis is a condition that continues to be a matter of debate in the medical community. Known also by the name false pregnancy, this rare circumstance occurs when a woman believes she is pregnant and appears to be pregnant. Typically the stomach and breasts enlarge, milk production is possible, and in some circumstances even a pregnancy test comes back positive. Yet there is no child and the woman is clearly not pregnant, though a small percentage of women may undergo labor that ends in nothing.

What makes pseudocyesis so confounding is that it’s hard to explain why it occurs. Most explanations lean heavily on the psychological, pointing to the fact that it most often happens in women who are deeply connected to the idea of having a child or who have lost a child or had a miscarriage recently. This doesn’t fully explain why a body that is not pregnant would respond as if it is. Those who explain this as psychological syndrome suggest that desire for a child can become so strong, it overrides normal body systems and can influence things like glands and hormones to produce the signs of pregnancy.

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The majority of women who experience pseudocyesis have many pregnancy symptoms. They may even stop having periods or have ones that are extremely irregular. Most women will not have a positive pregnancy test, though this can occur. Since many seek prenatal care, lack of a positive pregnancy test and absence of fetus, which is often checked on ultrasound in a doctor’s office, may be enough to convince some women they are not pregnant. It isn’t always enough, and some women will continue to insist on their pregnancy due to a deep seated, perhaps psychological, conviction of being pregnant. It can be difficult to get assistance for this latter group, given persistence of belief.

Presently, since the medical community views pseudocyesis as originating in the psyche, the best help for most women is to get therapy, and possibly drug treatment, which might address issues of depression associated with false pregnancy. If convinced the pregnancy did not exist, and with therapy, signs of being pregnant may ultimately recess. Interestingly, a woman who has the condition and needs to be anesthetized usually loses pregnancy symptoms right away, though they could return.

There are other things that can look like pseudocyesis but are not. Tumors in the womb could cause cessation of periods, breast swelling and an overall pregnant look. Extreme malfunction of hormones might create some false pregnancy symptoms, too. Suggestion of pregnancy, whether false or real, is best verified by a physician who can listen to a description of all symptoms, run blood and urine tests, and verify the presence of a fetus with ultrasound.

As much as this illness could be viewed as a curiosity, it should not be a disorder considered laughable. Emotional state so powerful that it changes the way the body looks and works is incredibly deep. Provided the psychological explanation for pseudocyesis is correct, this would suggest that women who experience this condition are in profound pain and have a very strong desire to have a child. They will walk away from this illness with that desire unfulfilled.

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