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Pseudocyesis also known as false pregnancy, can cause many of the signs and symptoms associated with pregnancy, and can resemble the condition in every way except for fetal presence. Other names include spurious pregnancy, feigned pregnancy, imaginary pregnancy, hysterical pregnancy, phantom pregnancy and grossesse nerveuse ("mental pregnancy"). John Mason Good coined the term pseudocyesis from the Greek wordspseudes (false) and kyesis (pregnancy) in 1923. False pregnancy is common in many mammals and is a method of providing milk for the group's offspring, most often cats, dogs, and rabbits.
History[edit | edit source]
Cases of pseudocyesis have been documented since antiquity. Hippocrates gives us the first written account around 300 B.C. when he recorded 12 different cases of women with the disorder. Mary I of England (1516-1558), Queen of England, was perhaps the most famous of western historical examples, who believed on several occasions that she was pregnant, when she was in fact not. Some even attribute the violence that gave her the nickname "Bloody Mary" to be a reaction to her disappointment on realising she was without child. Other medical historians believe that the queen's physicians mistook fibroid tumors in her uterus for a pregnancy.
Signs and symptoms[edit | edit source]
The symptoms of pseudocyesis are similar to the symptoms of true pregnancy and are often hard to distinguish from it. Such natural signs as amenorrhoea, morning sickness, tender breasts, and weight gain may all be present. Many health care professionals can be deceived by the symptoms associated with pseudocyesis. Research shows that 18% of women with pseudocyesis were at one time diagnosed as pregnant by medical professionals.
The hallmark sign of pseudocyesis that is common to all cases is that the affected patient is convinced that she is pregnant. Abdominal distension is the most common physical symptom of pseudocyesis (60– 90%). The abdomen expands in the same manner as it does during pregnancy, so that the affected woman looks pregnant. This phenomenon is thought to be caused by buildup of gas, fat, feces, or urine. These symptoms often resolve under general anesthesia and the woman's abdomen returns to its normal size.
The second most common physical sign of pseudocyesis is menstrual irregularity (50–90%). Women are also reported to experience the sensation of fetal movements known as quickening, even though there is no fetus present (50%-75%). Other common signs and symptoms include gastrointestinal symptoms, breast changes or secretions, labor pains, uterine enlargement, and softening of the cervix. One percent of women eventually experience false labor.
Causes[edit | edit source]
There are various explanations, none of which are universally accepted. Psychodynamic theories attribute the false pregnancy to emotional conflict. It is thought that an intense desire to become pregnant, or an intense fear of becoming pregnant, can create internal conflicts and changes in the endocrine system, which may explain some of the symptoms of pseudocyesis. Another theory concerns wish-fulfillment. It holds that if a woman desires pregnancy badly enough she may interpret minor changes in her body as signs of pregnancy. Proposed biological mechanisms include the effect of stress on the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis, constipation, weight gain and the movement of intestinal gas.
Demographics[edit | edit source]
The rate of pseudocyesis in the United States has declined significantly in the past century. In the 1940s there was one occurrence for approximately every 250 pregnancies. This rate has since dropped to between one and six occurrences for every 22,000 births (http://www.womens-health.co.uk/false_pregnancy.html). The average age of the affected woman is 33, though cases have been reported for women as young as 6-1/2 and as old as 79. More than two-thirds of women who experience pseudocyesis are married, and about one-third have been pregnant at least once. Women who have participated in incest may be at greater risk for developing pseudocyesis.
Treatment[edit | edit source]
Because pseudocyesis is not known to have a direct underlying physical cause, there are no general recommendations regarding treatment with medications. In some cases, however, the patient may be given medications for such symptoms as the cessation of menstruation. Because most patients with pseudocyesis have underlying psychological problems, they should be referred to a psychotherapist for the treatment of these problems. It is important at the same time, however, for the treating professional not to minimize the reality of the patient's physical symptoms.
The treatment that has had the most success is demonstrating to the patient that she is not really pregnant by the use of ultrasound or other imaging techniques.
Alternative therapies[edit | edit source]
There have been reports of patients being cured of pseudocyesis by hypnosis, purgatives, massage, opioids, or after nine months of symptoms, by experiencing "hysterical childbirth," but there are few data available on the effectiveness of these or similar procedures.
In animals[edit | edit source]
Dogs[edit | edit source]
Mice[edit | edit source]
In creating transgenic mice, DNA is injected into the male pronucleus of a freshly fertilized egg. The embryos are implanted in a female mouse which has been made pseudo-pregnant by mating her with a vasectomized male mouse in order to make her uterus receptive. 
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- RJ Reece, 2004. Analysis of Genes and Genomes
[edit | edit source]
- Paulman PM, Sadat A (1990). Pseudocyesis. J Fam Pract 30 (5): 575-6.
- Early Pregnancy Symptoms and Test
- Early Pregnancy Signs
- Evans DL, Seely TJ (1984). Pseudocyesis in the male. J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 172 (1): 37-40.
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