A hysterical pregnancy is when a woman is certain that she is pregnant yet conception has not taken place. The medical name for it is pseudocyesis. Use that word today and impress your friends. You are welcome. Other terms used to describe the condition are phantom pregnancy or false pregnancy. If you see those words used in the text below, please don't be confused. They are all referring to the same thing.
Having tried for the longer side of average to become pregnant myself, I find this phenomenon to be fascinating. If you have been through this too, you might remember trying to identify every twinge and symptom of early pregnancy. Oh, you weren't that obsessive? You are a better woman than I.
I was sure that the nausea was from a forming fetus and not because I ate those cheeseballs that had sat out overnight. Was that a glow I see on my skin--or the reflection of the fridge bulb in the hallway mirror? I might be eating for two, so having that chocolate mousse pie is probably acceptable by now. These are not trains of thought that you should hop aboard.
Below are some shocking truths about hysterical pregnancy. Hopefully you can learn some things you didn't know before.
We all know that one girl that faked a pregnancy to keep her man, or to get him to come back, or to be the center of attention, or to have an extra burrito without the judgement (I really wanted that burrito.)
Having a hysterical pregnancy is not the same as faking a pregnancy. There are actual physical symptoms that accompany the hysterical pregnancy. The faking of a pregnancy is a lie that is being told by a person and usually there is some emotional manipulation of other people. Sadly, a person with hysterical pregnancy has not made a conscious decision to deceive anyone.
Maybe "sadly" isn't correct, I mean it's good the person hasn't made that decision to lie, but it's sad to not be in control of your body. The person has been lead to believe by cues from their body that they are pregnant.
There are different conditions that cause the symptoms that are similar to hysterical pregnancy. I mean yes, pregnancy causes similar symptoms. However once pregnancy has been ruled out there are additional illness or conditions need to be ruled out.
Depression can cause changes in hormones which in turn can cause the body and brain to react in a way consistent with false pregnancy. Another thing to check for are ovarian tumors. These can cause the cessation of your period. Morbid obesity can cause some symptoms that are similar.
You may be rolling your eyes to start, but we have to work up to something here. Yes, this condition is extremely rare. You probably have not met someone who has had this happen to them. And you may not have met someone who met someone who had it happen to them. However you may hear about it on the science channel or on a talk show.
The chances of experiencing it are very, very small. According to WebMD only one to six out of every 22,000 live births. To put that into perspective, your chances of getting struck by lightning in your lifetime is 1 in 12,000. I won't even get into your chances of getting hit by lightning while having a hysterical pregnancy. Let's just say you probably don't need to have an emergency plan in place for that scenario.
The symptoms are (not surprisingly) the same as pregnancy. That means you will experience your menstrual period stopping. Your belly may start to look distended and rounded. Your breasts could become tender and enlarged. You may even start to feel "fetal movements" happening where a baby would be. Morning sickness is also a common complaint for women with this condition.
Obviously weight gain will creep in there too as your body starts to think it's preparing for two. You can feel these symptoms for a few weeks or up to nine months. There have even been some cases where the women have showed up at the hospital having pains that are similar to feeling like they are in labor.
In particularly severe cases a woman can find these symptoms last a whole year! I can't even imagine this going on for that amount of time and having nothing to show for it.
There seems to be some psychological causes that cause hysterical pregnancies to occur. Doctors and scientists are still confirming exact causes. The psychological causes are what seem to start the process of the body "thinking" it is with child.
This can begin with the following circumstances: an extreme desire to be pregnant that has not happened due to infertility, miscarriages, menopause, or wanting to get married. After her brain convinces the body that there is a baby that is when things begin to get crazy. The body starts doing it's thing with causing the symptoms described above.
Then this circles back to the brain. The brain responds by adjusting the hormones to match up with that of a pregnant woman. The circling between brain and body creates enough chaos that the body clearly thinks that it is pregnant and behaves accordingly.
Amazingly, humans are not the only ones that suffer from this condition. There are documented cases of animals also having this condition. Female dogs sometimes exhibit behavior changes which are in line with things a pregnant dog would do. Only to find out that there are no puppies.
The changes are thought to be caused by hormone changes or imbalances. Prolactin or progesterone in particular can cause some of the changes in the dog if they are not in balance. Sometimes these symptoms can begin after ovaries have been removed. There is more information available on this experience with dogs on PetMD.com.
This is the hard part. Given that this condition is often psychosomatic, there is not much that can be physically done. The key in treating is to break the news gently to the patient in a very sympathetic way. After all, the woman does believe that she is pregnant and that makes finding out that she is not somewhat like a loss.
Psychological support is a must. Gently breaking the news and showing compassion will help. However when your body is feeling one way and someone tells you that it's lying, that will be something that is not going to be fixed in one chat with a doctor. Therapy for the patient can be a helpful tool to suggest and set up for the patient.
If you find that you have a friend that goes through this, please understand that this not something that they made happen or created.
The tests that determine hysterical pregnancy or false pregnancy are the same as those used to determine real pregnancy, but with slightly different results in some cases. A urine test, an evaluation from a doctor checking the symptoms and cervix, and an abdominal ultrasound.
In the case of a false pregnancy there will be no baby pictured on the ultrasound. There will be no heartbeat seen on the monitor, no matter how many weeks past a missed period the patient is. The urine tests will also always be negative. An enlarged uterus or softened cervix are symptoms which both real and false pregnancies can have in common.
Additional tests should always be performed to rule out ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy not found in the uterus), morbid obesity, and cancer. The tests are required because these conditions can also cause the same symptoms listed for hysterical pregnancies.
The cases of pseudocyesis or false pregnancy are fewer than they ever have been. This may be due to the early detection pregnancy tests at the local pharmacy. There are other theories about a change in the role of women in society. Our value is not as tied to our ability to bear or want to have children.
This makes sense. In previous times there was pressure to have children and to make sure there was an heir to the family fortune. Society has greatly moved away from that opening up a little bit of room for women to do what they want. Girl Power! We don't need men, and we don't need babies.
Well, some of us like them though. Not everyone needs to have them. We like people to decide for themselves now. This makes me super happy.
Also some type of cancers can sneak in there to cause some of the concerns similar to phantom pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus. This is something that should be considered if you find that you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
Many believe that Mary Tudor suffered from a phantom pregnancy. In 1555 the bells were rung, the announcements were made and celebrations were started for Mary Tudor in congratulations for a son being born to her. Only there was no son. There was no birth.
In medical texts from the time it appears that this not an uncommon thing for the times. The doctors often didn't know until a baby came whether it was a phantom pregnancy or a real one.
It is said that Mary wanted a baby so badly to give the country an heir that she convinced herself she was indeed pregnant. She thought that she had felt the baby move and was convinced that she would be giving birth after initially being unsure. She had gotten a nursery ready and a birth chamber.
She was humiliated when the time came and no baby was had. She stayed in the birth chamber for weeks after hoping that the dates were off and the baby may come.
When hormones are described as going unbalanced it can sometimes make us question where these hormones come from. The hormones that are affecting the phantom pregnancy symptoms are housed in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain. The gland is pea sized.
Amazing to think that something so small can cause so much trouble in a body. The hormones that are located there are in charge of prolactin and progesterone. These are two of the hormones in charge of milk production/secretion and menstrual cycles.
The very location of the pituitary gland being so near to the brain may mean that there is a close connection between the thought patterns and the releasing of hormones. That would make sense as to why this could even occur. More information on this can be found on the abc news website.
There have been occasions where a doctor has been fooled into thinking a patient was pregnant. This doesn't in general cause much physical damage to the patient. There would usually be some tests that occur as long as the patient is going to the necessary prenatal care. The exception to no physical ramifications is when an emergency c-section is performed.
This sadly has occurred before. In one case two doctors attempted to induce a woman for two days. After two days of no progress the doctors wheeled her in to do an emergency c-section only to find that there was no baby. This is pretty scary. The two doctors were reported to be disciplined for the debacle.
You may be wondering why there are so many things that are still questioned about this phenomenon. After all Mary Tudor had this. This is obviously something that has been happening since forever. Shouldn't we know it all? The problem is in finding and questioning women that have had this occur.
Many of the people that have had this happen go home from the hospital into their normal lives. They don't want to stick around after receiving the news. They want to grieve and go home. Also there is no way to do randomized trials since there is no way to predict who will have this occur. Many women get embarrassed after finding out and would rather not speak to anyone about it. Feeling like they are to blame.
In the limited knowledge that is available, there are some statistics on who is most likely to have this condition in the US. The ages that are likely to develop this condition are 20 to 39 years old. The phenomena happens across all income levels. There is not one race that is more likely to experience it than another.
Looking this over, maybe there isn't much for demographics to be gathered. There is some comfort in the lack of discrimination in how the hysterical pregnancy works. You don't see that kind of colorblindness all the time. Sort of refreshing. Basically, if you haven't had menopause then it is possible.
In countries that are developing and have large families, this condition is more likely to happen. This is because the woman's value is often caught up in her fertility. Their richness is in the amount of children that they have.
Larger families hold more value as a whole. This means that there is a lot of pressure to produce. The large part of the identity of women is to be mothers. It has been described as a social disorder in some cases due to the way the disorder seems to develop based on the society views of women.
As women's worth in the US has become less tied to their ability to have children or their want/need to have them, there have been less recorded cases of this happening.