A phantom, or false pregnancy, is a condition in
which a non-pregnant woman exhibits all the classic symptoms of pregnancy and
is firmly convinced that she is pregnant even when clear medical evidence shows
that she is not. The medical term for this condition is pseudocyesis.
is it diagnosed?
The first thing a woman with a phantom pregnancy
will probably do is visit her GP or antenatal clinic complaining of all the
usual symptoms and minor discomforts of early pregnancy such as absence of periods;
breast enlargement; nausea and vomiting; weight gain and abdominal distension.
If a urine sample is tested at this stage it will confirm the existence, or
otherwise of a pregnancy, but a woman suffering from a true pseudocyesis will
continue to insist that she is pregnant, regardless of medical opinion.
is at risk?
While the incidence of true pseudocyesis is extremely
rare, the most 'at
of women are those in their late thirties or early forties who desperately want
a child and have been trying to conceive for many years. These women will normally
be quite stable emotionally but will have a tendency to become very emotional
over the whole question of pregnancy.
Pseudocyesis can also occur in some women who have
lost a pregnancy or a baby and, while it is probably an emotional reaction to
their trauma, there is also evidence to suggest that a temporary hormonal imbalance
may be a contributory factor.
is it treated?
The treatment of a woman who is suffering from
a true pseudocyesis requires very careful and sympathetic consideration, often
with the help of a supportive partner or family network.
Despite the existence of positive medical proof
that she is not pregnant, the woman suffering from a phantom pregnancy may remain
convinced of her pregnancy for some time, which is one of the reasons why follow-up
counselling may have to be arranged for her.
All the major Irish maternity hospitals have access
to trained counsellors who are familiar with the trauma experienced by women
who desperately want a baby and have not conceived, and GPs can also arrange
counselling sessions for patients if required.
Very severe emotional disturbance may follow in
a woman who finally comes to the realisation that she has been suffering from
a false pregnancy. It is at this stage that the sympathy and understanding of
those closest to her is vital, and that the services of a trained counsellor
may be offered.
there a medical explanation for phantom pregnancy?
The phenomenon of phantom pregnancy is a perplexing
one for the medical profession. Nobody has yet come up with an explanation as
to why a very small percentage of women actually exhibit all the classic symptoms
of pregnancy such as weight gain, breast enlargement and abdominal distension
when they are not pregnant at all. The fact that a woman actually looks pregnant
makes the job of her GP even more difficult when he has to try to explain to
her that all her urine samples are testing negative for pregnancy.
Phantom pregnancy or pseudocyesis cannot just be
dealt with from a medical or gynaecological perspective without taking due consideration
of the severe underlying emotional distress and turmoil which has led to the
diagnosis of such a condition in the first place.
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