Pseudocyesis/False Pregnancy/Phantom Pregnancy: Meaning, Causes, Symptoms,Treatment.
PSEUDOCYESIS OR FALSE/PHANTOM PREGNANCY.
Have you ever heard a woman claiming to have carried a pregnancy for 1,2 or even 3 years before she gave birth? She seems so sure of her symptoms and it seems impossible to convince her otherwise? Aside other illnesses that can mimic pregnancy, it could be that she had pseudocyesis for a while before she eventually got pregnant.
WHAT IS PSEUDOCYESIS OR FALSE /PHANTOM PREGNANCY?
False pregnancy, clinically termed pseudocyesis, is the belief that you are expecting a baby when you are not really carrying a child. People with pseudocyesis have many, if not all, symptoms of pregnancy, except that there is really no foetus.
Interestingly, false pregnancy is not only found in women but men as well. When a man suffers a false pregnancy, it is usually called SYMPATHETIC PREGNANCY or medically known as COUVADE. It mostly happens when his significant other is pregnant and is dealing with the normal aches and pains that are associated with pregnancy. They will develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners, including weight gain, nausea, and backache.
WHAT CAUSES FALSE PREGNANCY?
The exact causes are unknown, doctors suspect that psychological factors may trick the body into “thinking” that it’s pregnant.
When a woman wants to get pregnant so badly that she mentally convinces herself that she is pregnant,which may be because of
-loss of a child
– a desire to get married, her body may produce some pregnancy signs (such as a swollen belly, enlarged breasts, and even the sensation of fetal movement). The woman’s brain then misinterprets those signals as pregnancy, and triggers the release of hormones (such as estrogen and prolactin) that lead to actual pregnancy symptoms.
Some researchers have suggested that poverty, a lack of education, childhood sexual abuse, or relationship problems might play a role in triggering false pregnancy. In addition, there are also real physical causes as well which include ovarian tumors and a chemical imbalance in the brain that in a way “tricks” the body into thinking it is pregnant.
SYMPTOMS OF PSEUDOCYESIS
Women with pseudocyesis have many of the same symptoms as those who are actually pregnant, including:
– missed periods
– swollen belly
– weight gain
– frequent urination
– changes in skin and hair
– swollen breasts
– sensations of fetal movement and contractions
– morning sickness
These symptoms can last for just a few weeks, for nine months, or even for several years. A very small percentage of patients with false pregnancy will arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital with what feels like labor pains.
TESTS FOR FALSE PREGNANCY
To determine whether a woman is experiencing a false pregnancy, the doctor will usually evaluate her symptoms, perform a pelvic exam and abdominal ultrasound — the same tests used to feel and visualize the unborn baby during a normal pregnancy.
In a case of false pregnancy, no baby will be seen on the ultrasound, and there won’t be any heartbeat. Sometimes, however, the doctor will find some of the physical changes that occur during pregnancy, such as an enlarged uterus and softened cervix. Urine pregnancy tests will always be negative in these cases, with the exception of rare cancers that produce similar hormones to pregnancy.
Certain medical conditions can mimic the symptoms of pregnancy, including ectopic pregnancy, morbid obesity, and cancer. These conditions may need to be ruled out with tests.
TREATING FALSE PREGNANCY
Treating a false pregnancy is very difficult since it is a delicate situation, it is not necessarily a medical problem but more psychological where symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to the whole 9 months, to even years.
Women who think and feel like they are pregnant are also feeling that same excitement for the next 9 months and beyond. They are looking forward to raising their baby in their home – watching him or her have their first bath, take their first steps and grow like a typical kid.
Now she is about to find out that what she is feeling, what she is looking forward to, is not going to happen. It is all in her head. Now imagine being the bearer of this news and attempting to treat her; knowing that she had this excitement built up just to have it crushed.
After a doctor has proven for a fact that this is indeed a false pregnancy, they will then conduct some psychological exams to ensure that there is no underlying psychological or neurological condition. After this, they will provide psychological therapy and emotional support as these are the only way to treat pseudocyesis.
OKOGBENI JOANNA EJOVWOKE
RN, RM IN VIEW.