Is it me or do my breasts look fantastic? Did I just feel a twinge in my pelvic area? Is this train ride nauseating? I could have sworn I was pregnant the month before I actually conceived. All the signs were there or were they? Experiencing pregnancy symptoms without being pregnant is a phenomenon that I’ve come to learn happens to a lot of women who are trying to conceive.
This is different than false pregnancy or pseudocyesis, which is a medical condition where a woman believes she is pregnant, but she is not actually carrying a baby. She may even have symptoms such as a missed period, nausea or enlarged breasts. However, the difference is she really believes she is pregnant. A pregnancy test or medical exam will rule out pregnancy.
But what is it that makes us simply feel like we’re pregnant before it’s actually happening biologically? Maybe it’s the strong desire or the constant body monitoring. Or is it your body getting ready for what’s about to come? One of my friends truly believes that your body starts preparing for pregnancy even before the egg is fertilized. She had an unplanned pregnancy and swore to me that she went up a bra size the month before.
Whatever it is, if this is happening to you, just know that you’re not alone. The mind and body are powerful forces. If you’re concerned, talk to a professional about what you’re experiencing.
Pregnancy is usually an exciting time for expectant parents. But pregnancy doesn’t always end with the anticipated baby. In rare cases, a woman (or even a man) believes she is pregnant, only to find out that her symptoms were caused not by pregnancy, but by something else entirely.
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 — with the exception of an actual fetus. Some men experience a related phenomenon known as couvade, or sympathetic pregnancy. They will develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners, including weight gain, nausea, and backache.
What Causes False Pregnancy?
Only recently have doctors begun to understand the psychological and physical issues that are at the root of pseudocyesis. Although the exact causes still aren’t known, doctors suspect that psychological factors may trick the body into “thinking” that it’s pregnant.
When a woman feels an intense desire to get pregnant, which may be because of infertility, repeat miscarriages, impending menopause, or 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. Having a false pregnancy is not the same as claiming to be pregnant for a benefit (for example, to profit financially), or having delusions of pregnancy (such as in patients with schizophrenia).
Symptoms of False Pregnancy
Women with pseudocyesis have many of the same symptoms as those who are actually pregnant, including:
- Interruption of the menstrual period
- Swollen belly
- Enlarged and tender breasts, changes in the nipples, and possibly milk production
- Feeling of fetal movements
- Nausea and vomiting
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 get pregnant — 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.
Treating False Pregnancy
When a woman believes she is pregnant, especially for a period of several months, it can be very upsetting for her to learn that she is not. Doctors need to gently break the news, and provide psychological support, including therapy, to help the patient with pseudocyesis recover from her disappointment.
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