Phantom Pregnancy: The Journey of a False Pregnancy

Phantom pregnancy: The road to nowhere

Sharing the news of a pregnancy is one of the happiest moments of someone’s life. However, pregnancy symptoms can sometimes mislead a person. Such false symptoms of pregnancy without carrying a baby may be the result of some other ailments.  Phantom pregnancy is also known as Pseudo-pregnancy or false pregnancy.

What is false in Phantom pregnancy?

It is one of the most puzzling conditions in which a women show signs and symptoms of true pregnancy. She strongly believes that she carries a child in her womb. However, there is no actual foetus or any foetal heartbeat on Ultrasonography.

Is Phantom pregnancy same as ectopic pregnancy or delusion of pregnancy?

No, it is not at all same. These two are different entities. In an ectopic pregnancy, a woman shows all the signs and symptoms of pregnancy like in Phantom pregnancy. Although she carries a foetus, it is outside the uterus. Also, Phantom pregnancy has a close resemblance with a delusion of pregnancy. But, such delusion occurs in a setting of underlying psychological disorder and has a somewhat different mechanism of action.

Presentations that make women believe that she is pregnant

  • Absence of menstrual period in women of childbearing age
  • Swollen belly
  • Morning sickness
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for food
  • Tender breast
  • A feeling of fetal movement

Till now the exact cause and mechanism of action that leads to false pregnancy are unknown. There is numerous theory that revolves around  Phantom pregnancy.

Theory 1 :

Abnormal Neuroendocrine mechanism leads to the sending of wrong signals to the brain in a woman who has a strong desire to be pregnant. These wrong signals from the brain lead to an alteration in the level of female hormones that brings changes during pregnancy.

It could be due to the combination of psychological, physical or gynaecological traits.

Theory 2:

  • Misreading bodily changes as a pregnancy-related change
  • Sociocultural belief and stress to become pregnant
  • Women shares trait with major depressive illness
  • It is commonly encountered in women dealing with infertility

How do cases of Phantom pregnancy get diagnosed?

  1. The urinary pregnancy test will be negative.
  2. Ultrasonography might show changes in the uterus, but without the presence of any fetal parts or heartbeat.

Is there any treatment for Phantom pregnancy?

Treatment of the underlying cause is the best method to approach such cases. It can be associated with psychological illness, hormone-secreting tumours, Polycystic ovarian disease, thyroid disorder etc.

Phantom pregnancy is a result of the complex physical- neuroendocrine-psychological network imbalance. A more holistic approach is required to treat and support women with Phantom pregnancy.
For a woman, being unable to become pregnant despite having symptoms of pregnancy can be dreadfully traumatic. Both emotional and medical support are required to avoid further emotional breakdown. Sometimes, the wound you can’t see are the hardest to heal.


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  • Evans DL, Seely  TJ. Pseudocyesis in the Male. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: January 1984 – Volume 172 – Issue 1 – p 37-40.
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My name is Rajni. I am a pathologist and an aspiring medical writer, I also hold a master’s degree in Molecular Pathology of Cancer from Queen’s University, Belfast , UK. I have an interest as well as knowledge in the field of pathophysiology of diseases, oncology and recent advances in molecular technologies. My thesis on the analysis of next-generation sequencing gives insight into the future of molecular diagnostics. Topics that interest me include the diagnostic aspect of diseases, the role of genetic testing in cancer prevention and diagnosis, digital pathology and novel diagnostic technologies.

5 Replies to “Phantom Pregnancy: The Journey of a False Pregnancy”

  1. .Very nice and useful article..It will provide a good guidance to women facing infertility and suffering from social stress for not being able to conceiving ..They will know that stress is going to do nothing but just harm them in all aspects.

  2. Very nice and useful article..It will provide a good guidance to women facing infertility and suffering from social stress for not being able to conceiving ..They will know that stress is going to do nothing but just harm them in all aspects.

  3. Kudos to Dr Rajni!! A very thorough insight into a very sensitive condition.. An intriguing topic explained methodically…

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