Although hysterical pregnancy is quite common in dogs, cats, and mice, this is a rare condition for humans. Experts estimate that this condition occurs in between one and six of every 22,000 births.
About Hysterical Pregnancy
A hysterical pregnancy, also known as a false pregnancy or pseudocyesis, involves the appearance of pregnancy symptoms in someone who is not actually pregnant. Some of the possible symptoms experienced during a hysterical pregnancy include:
- Missing menstrual period
- Tender breasts
- Weight gain
- Food cravings
About half of all women with this condition experience symptoms of quickening or fetal movement, even though there is actually no fetus present. In very rare cases, women who are having a hysterical pregnancy even experience labor pains.
Conditions such as morbid obesity, an ectopic pregnancy, or certain types of cancers can create physical changes in the body that are similar to a pregnancy. However, a woman must genuinely believe she is pregnant for the condition to be classified as pseudocyesis.
A false pregnancy can occur in women of any age, although it is most common among women ages 20-44. Some of the possible factors associated with the condition include:
- A history of miscarriages
- Struggles with infertility
- A deep desire for pregnancy and marriage
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Lack of education
- Relationship problems
- Underlying mental illness
It is interesting to note that false pregnancies have occurred throughout history. Mary Tudor, the English queen, is commonly thought to have suffered from the condition. In fact, the violent behavior that earned her the "Bloody Mary" nickname is often said to have been a reaction to discovering she was not carrying an heir to the throne after all.
Because pseudocyesis is extremely rare, many doctors are unfamiliar with the condition. In some cases, doctors have actually been fooled into thinking a patient suffering from a false pregnancy was, in fact, pregnant. In order to diagnose the condition, a doctor must be able to look beyond the obvious physical symptoms of pregnancy. For example, there is no fetal heartbeat in pseudocyesis.
In humans, a false pregnancy has no underlying physical cause. This makes the condition hard to treat with medication, although some physicians may prescribe medications to relieve specific symptoms of the disorder such as the absence of menstruation. Doctors may demonstrate to a woman that she is not really pregnant by using ultrasound or other imaging techniques to reveal the absence of a fetus. A negative pregnancy test can also be used, although it should be noted that it is possible for a woman suffering from a false pregnancy to have undergone enough hormonal changes to produce a positive result.
In most cases, psychotherapy is recommended for a woman suffering from a hysterical pregnancy. Professional assistance is important, as a woman who has believed she is pregnant for several months is likely to react with strong emotions when her true condition is discovered.
When discussing a false pregnancy, it is important to note that a woman must honestly believe she is pregnant for the condition to be pseudocyesis. If a woman is displaying pregnancy symptoms but knows she is not pregnant, this is known as a simulated pregnancy. A simulated pregnancy can be faked with special body suits, pillows, or the use of artificially supplied hormones. Motives for a simulated pregnancy can range from simple curiosity to attracting sympathy or trying to deceive a romantic partner.