Some women are sure they’re pregnant even before carrying out a standard pregnancy test. In a country like Nigeria, where the burden of getting pregnant is tremendous, one can easily dismiss a missed period as a sign of pregnancy.
However, some women may see all signs of pregnancy and believe they’re pregnant, even though they aren’t. This phenomenon is called a Phantom pregnancy.
A phantom pregnancy is also known as false or pseudocyesis. This is the appearance of clinical or subclinical signs and symptoms associated with pregnancy when the person is not actually pregnant, which may sometimes be purely psychological.
In Nigeria, false pregnancy rates are high as 1 in 344 pregnancies. This could stem from the pressures to get pregnant.
Only recently have doctors begun to understand the psychological and physical issues at the root of pseudocyesis. Although the exact causes aren’t known, doctors suspect that psychological factors may trick the body into “thinking” that it’s pregnant.
Causes of phantom pregnancy
Strong emotions: When a woman feels an intense desire to get pregnant, which may be because of infertility, repeated 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.
Socio-economic disparity: Some researchers have suggested that poverty, a lack of education, childhood sexual abuse, or relationship problems might play a role in triggering false pregnancy. 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).
Underlying health condition: Other times, it could result from an ovarian tumour which causes elevated levels of these hormones. This leads to missed periods, swollen breasts, and abdomen.
Symptoms of phantom pregnancy
Women with pseudocyesis have many of the same symptoms as those who are actually pregnant, including:
Interruption of the menstrual period.
Enlarged and tender breasts.
Changes in the nipples.
The feeling of fetal movements.
Nausea and vomiting.
These symptoms can last a few weeks, nine months, or even several years. A very small percentage of patients in Nigeria with false pregnancy will arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital with what feels like labour pains.
False pregnancy isn’t a mere condition. It stems from various psychological conditions and should be treated as a priority. Treating this can be difficult because the woman is 100% sure they're pregnant and always prove it with their physical signs. However, they aren’t pregnant in the actual sense because of the absence of the pregnancy hormone, hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin).
She needs all the care, support and compassion during this time. Her healthcare provider, psychiatrist and partner would be of immense assistance. Although some clinical treatments include:
- Pregnancy tests
- Hormonal screening
- Antidepressant medications
Sometimes, these women may feel shame after realising they were never pregnant. Remember that it’s a medical condition; you weren’t making scenarios. You need all the support you can get now from friends, family members, and your health care provider.