PSEUDOCYESIS. Yup, it’s Word of the Day Wednesday again! Today’s word means “false pregnancy.” Yes. The morning sickness, the tender breasts, the weight gain, the abdominal distension, in some cases even labor pains — they are all expected to some degree or another with pregnancy. But these are also present with pseudocyesis… except there is no growing fetus in there. Crazy, right?!
The first written account of this was in 300B.C. by our ol’ buddy Hippocrates (a.k.a. father of medicine). He wrote about 12 women who had the disorder. And the Queen of England in the early/mid 1500s, Mary Tudor, also goes down in history as someone who suffered from pseudocyesis. We’re not the only ones in the animal kingdom, though: cats, dogs, and rabbits have also been documented as experiencing psuedocyesis.
But as the accuracy of medical imaging and pregnancy tests have improved over the years, the reports of this condition have decreased markedly in the last 100 years. It’s now between 1-6 for every 22,000 births; back in 1940, it was 1 in every 250 (Paulman et al 1990). The average age of onset is 33 years – with the oldest reported case of a 79 year old woman!
Uterine fibroids, which can enlarge a non-pregnant uterus, are one reason why there might be hormonal shifts and visible changes to the belly — but that’s not pseudocyesis. And because pregnancy requires an enormous amount of energy and resources, you’re probably wondering why a body might attempt to undergo these changes in the absence of an actual pregnancy?
It’s a bit of a mystery, really, but there are three main theories: (1) emotional conflict – so an intense desire to become pregnant combined with an intense fear of pregnancy can cause a cascade of changes in the endocrine (gland/hormone) system, (2) wish-fulfillment – a woman wants a pregnancy so bad that minor changes in the body are interpreted and magnified as signs of pregnancy, and (3) depression – that depressive disorders cause chemical changes in the body can trigger these symptoms. Symptoms can last from months to years. Treatment consists of mental health counseling, medication, massage and more – but there isn’t very good data on what’s effective or why it’s effective.
Suffice it to say, whether you’ve experienced psuedocyesis or not — if you want to get pregnant and other methods have been unsuccessful, it’s worth talking to a pelvic PT. We’ll delve into why that is later this week, so stay tuned!