Some women did not know that they were expecting until the pregnancy test comes back positive. Some women experience all the classic pregnancy symptoms, yet there is no baby. This uncommon condition is known as pseudopregnancy, pseudocyesis or phantom pregnancy.

What is Pseudopregnancy?
People with pseudopregnancy believe that they are pregnant when they are not. Some of them even experience many, if not all, symptoms of pregnancy, that makes people around her believe that she is expecting, when there is no actual baby.

What causes Pseudopregnancy?
Although the exact causes are not confirmed yet, most health professionals agree that the root cause likely stems from psychological factors, a mind-body feedback loop which tricks the body with strong emotions, causing an elevation of hormones and triggering physical pregnancy symptoms. Some doctors attribute the cause of pseudopregnancy to a woman’s intense desire to conceive, especially for those who experienced infertility, miscarriages, impending menopause or even a desire to get married, leading to her body producing signs which are then misinterpreted further, triggering the release of hormones that lead to pregnancy symptoms.

Even one’s fear of conceiving may also affect the endocrine system, causing pregnancy symptoms. Another theory is when there are chemical changes in one’s nervous system, triggered by depressive disorders. Sometimes, it could also be caused by a physical condition, such as a pituitary or ovarian tumour, which leads to missed periods and abdominal enlargement.

What are the symptoms of Pseudopregnancy?
False pregnancy can resemble a real pregnancy in every way (except the baby’s presence), leading to symptoms that can last from months up to years, such as a ‘baby bump’ caused by a build-up of gas, fat and more, irregular menstrual cycles, morning sickness, enlarged tender breasts, feeling of foetal movements, ‘baby kicks’, weight gain, nausea, vomiting and even labour pains, which can deceive even doctors. Some women’s phantom pregnancies even elevate their estrogen or prolactin levels, which causes physical symptoms.

How common is Pseudopregnancy?
As early as 300 B.C., Hippocrates has written about false pregnancies. In the 1940s, there is approximately one pseudopregnancy out of every 250 pregnancies, which has declined significantly to 1-6 cases every 22,000 births today. The average age of women reporting pseudopregnancies is 33, with more than two-thirds being married. In cultures where a woman’s worth is linked to her ability to conceive, the rates of pseudopregnancy may be higher.

What to do about Pseudopregnancy?
When a woman believes that she is pregnant, especially for several months, it can be shocking and upsetting to be told that she is not. Usually showing a woman proof that she is not pregnant, through imaging techniques like ultrasound, is enough to end symptoms of a pseudopregnancy, though some women deny it, finding it difficult to accept reality.

A strong support system, emotional care and psychological support will be important to help this hopeful moms-to-be move on healthily and cope with their disappointment.

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