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Have you ever heard of a "Phantom pregnancy"? Also called "psychogenic", "psychological", "false" or "pseudo-pregnancy", a phantom pregnancy, though a rather rare occurrence, truly exist.

The power of the human mind and body goes beyond our mere human control and sometimes, because of that, we are faced with physical and mental situations that we can barely start to understand. The condition called “Pseudocyesis”, medical term for a so-called “psychological pregnancy”, “false pregnancy” or “phantom pregnancy” is certainly one of those conditions where our body and mind seem to be playing tricks on us.

What is a Psychological pregnancy?

A psychological pregnancy refers to a state in which a woman experiences all the symptoms of pregnancy without actually being pregnant. For years, psychological pregnancies have remained a medical mystery, with doctors being unable to explain this rather rare occurrence in the absence of an actual pregnancy. But today, even though all causes of psychological pregnancies are not fully elucidated, the most common have been identified as possible triggers for this disturbance.

Most common causes of pseudocyesis

It’s Mostly a Mind Thing…

When a woman is having an intense desire to get pregnant, her body might actually trick her into believing that she is indeed pregnant. Researchers have demonstrated that the most common causes of psychogenic pregnancies are unconscious psychological factors. This occurrence can be triggered by emotional trauma such as repeated miscarriages, a recent diagnosis of infertility, a desire to get married, or even an impending menopause, which marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. As a result of that, because the thought of being pregnant is extremely strong, the mind influences the body into releasing pregnancy hormones that account for the experienced symptoms.

A rather uncommon psychiatric disorder, multiple personality disorder could also be identified as a cause of pseudocyesis. For instance, in one of her dysfunctional personalities, a woman might believe that she is pregnant (and actually experience the symptoms of pregnancy). This could also be possible in women suffering from schizophrenia and who experience delusions of being pregnant.

One percent of women with false pregnancy also experience false labor.

Hormonal dysfunction

Imbalance of hormone levels can also be a valid explanation to justify why a woman can be considered as pregnant even if she is not. Pregnancy is strongly dependent on the main female hormones which are estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone plays a major role in facilitating the fetus implantation in the uterus in the first few weeks and the first trimester, until the placenta can start functioning on its own. Once the fetus is correctly implanted, it starts secreting a hormone called Beta Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (bHCG, the beta chain is specific for the placenta). That is the hormone that would be detected on a urine pregnancy test, as it starts being excreted in the mother’s urine between 10 t0 14 days. Sometimes, pregnancies that are not viable or cancers of the germ cells that develop during pregnancy (choriocarcinoma, moles, etc.) can lead to a persistently elevated level of bCHG hormone in the blood, long after the pregnancy has been physiologically terminated. Other types of hormonal dysfunction could be ovarian tumors producing high levels of female hormones, henceforth mimicking the symptoms of pregnancy: missed periods, morning sickness, weight gain, breast tenderness. 

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