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Stranger than fiction: False pregnancy

By - Hannah Chira | October 20th 2012

A game of your mind it may be, but however weird it sounds, some women experience real pregnancy symptoms, but aren’t actually pregnant, writes Hannah Chira

False pregnancy or hysterical pregnancy known as pseudocyesis is the appearance of clinical signs and symptoms associated with pregnancy when a woman is not actually pregnant.

Regarded by many medical experts as purely a psychological condition, the false pregnancy is known to be caused by changes in the endocrine system of the body, the system concerned with secretion of hormones, leading to the secretion of hormones, which translate into physical changes similar to those during pregnancy.

Lost menses

A woman experiencing this will have nausea, tender breasts and weight gain, among other pregnancy symptoms.  Phantom pregnancy symptoms are not necessarily rare and are frustrating, especially for those suffering through the two-week wait to do a pregnancy test.

But for some, the symptoms are so realistic and long-lasting that the women remain convinced they’re pregnant for nine months or even longer – despite the fact that there is no baby.

Even though it is an extremely rare condition, women who suffer pseudocyesis may stop menstruating and have distended stomachs. Their hormone levels may rise, and their breasts can become engorged and in some cases even colostrum is released.

Some women even develop health complications associated with pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, a condition where the woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.

False pregnancy can even result in contractions and the woman might even ‘see’ a foetus on the ultrasound screen.


Experts say this strange condition is caused by an entirely unrelated physical or mental health condition. Ovarian tumours and severe depression, for example, can lead to both elevated hormone levels and the cessation of periods.

More often than not, the cause is psychological where the woman wants so badly to be pregnant, causing her brain to create changes in her body.

Unfortunately, the condition is triggered by trauma such as multiple miscarriages or the death of a spouse.

Usually, it is often difficult for patients to accept that the pregnancy is not real. This condition has become rare with time, as early pregnancy tests becoming available and perhaps because the role of women in society is less tied to motherhood as it was in the past.

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