Phantom Pregnancy: Causes, Signs, And Treatment


When you are trying to get pregnant, every sign and discomfort will point towards pregnancy and sometimes phantom pregnancy. If you have missed your period or it is a late period, it can be a sign of pregnancy. More signs include nausea, morning sickness, or fatigue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms then you should take a pregnancy test.

The main characteristic of a phantom pregnancy, also known as pseudocyesis, is the absolute belief of the woman that she is pregnant. Irregularity with menstruation is commonly seen in women suffering from a false pregnancy. A majority of these women will report there is fetal movement but on diagnosis, there is no such movement.

phantom pregnancy

What is Pseudocyesis Pregnancy or Phantom Pregnancy?

False pregnancy is called pseudocyesis pregnancy or phantom pregnancy. In this, a woman experiences many symptoms of pregnancy but the pregnancy is false as the fetus does not develop. The symptoms include a growing belly, morning sickness, irritability, back pain, etc. It is common amongst women.

Causes of Phantom Pregnancy

According to researchers the exact cause for phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis is not known. The cause can be physical or psychological. Physical could be ovarian cysts or tumors. Most evidence shows that pseudocyesis is common in women having an intense desire to become pregnant. The intensity sends a signal to the brain which makes it believe that it is pregnancy. The rest of the body receives signals and is prompted to behave as it would if pregnant. The endocrine, cortical, hypothalamic, and psychological functions work together complexly. Stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis leads to pseudocyesis.

Risk Factors for Phantom Pregnancy

Pseudocyesis occur in certain types of cases in which women who had the following conditions are more at risk than usual –


Signs and Symptoms

Women feel signs and symptoms of pregnancy and believe it is pregnancy. The usual signs are as follows –

  • Missed periods
  • Swollen belly
  • Weight gain
  • Enlarged breasts
  • Changes in the skin and hair
  • Frequent urination
  • Morning sickness
  • A feeding of fetal movement

Tests for False Pregnancy

Certain tests to diagnose false pregnancy include –

  • A blood test to establish the pregnancy
  • Urine test to detect pregnancy
  • An ultrasound test of the abdomen and pelvic area is done to establish the pregnancy. In case of a false pregnancy, the ultrasound will not show up any kind of heartbeat neither would a fetus be seen.
  • Diagnose conditions like obesity or ovarian cysts.

Treatment for Phantom Pregnancy

There are two factors to consider when treating pseudocyesis. If the condition has been caused due to some physical or physiological reason, then this will be treated first. In the case of cystic ovaries, the treatment plan will include medication, lifestyle changes, and maybe even meditation. And if the ovarian cyst is big or harmful, then surgery will be required. If the false pregnancy is brought about by a psychological reason, then it will have to be treated with the help of psychiatrists and therapies.

In either case, the woman might have become invested in the idea of being pregnant. Apart from the pregnancy, they might be prepared for raising and bringing a child. Once it is established that the pregnancy is false, the woman will need a lot of care. The dream of having a child is a very dear one and having those hopes unfounded can be emotionally hard for the woman. It is best to contact the doctor and also with a therapist to make peace with this apparent loss.


Phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis looks and feels like any other pregnancy but is in fact not a pregnancy. There is no fetus and it is caused by a number of factors. If suspecting any pregnancy, visit a doctor and get a blood test, ultrasound scan done, as these are the most reliable tests for establishing a pregnancy.

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