False pregnancy scares

False Pregnancy (Pseudocyesis): Causes, Symptoms, and Tests

Written by Stephanie Watson

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on August 12, 2022

In this Article

  • What Causes False Pregnancy?
  • Symptoms of False Pregnancy
  • Tests for False Pregnancy
  • Treating False Pregnancy

Pregnancy is usually an exciting time for expectant parents. But pregnancy doesn't always end with the anticipated baby. In rare cases, women (or even men) believe they are pregnant, only to find out that their symptoms were caused not by pregnancy, but by something else entirely.

False pregnancy, clinically termed pseudocyesis, is the belief that you are expecting a baby when you are not really carrying a child. People with pseudocyesis have many, if not all, symptoms of pregnancy -- with the exception of an actual fetus. Some men experience a related phenomenon known as couvade, or sympathetic pregnancy. They will develop many of the same symptoms as their pregnant partners, including weight gain, nausea, and backache.


What Causes False Pregnancy?

Only recently have doctors begun to understand the psychological and physical issues that are at the root of pseudocyesis. Although the exact causes still aren't known, doctors suspect that psychological factors may trick the body into "thinking" that it's pregnant.

When a woman feels an intense desire to get pregnant, which may be because of infertility, repeat miscarriages, impending menopause, or a desire to get married, their 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.

Some researchers have suggested that poverty, a lack of education, childhood sexual abuse, or relationship problems might play a role in triggering false pregnancy. Having a 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).


Symptoms of False Pregnancy

Women with pseudocyesis have many of the same symptoms as those who are actually pregnant, including:

  • Interruption of the menstrual period
  • Swollen belly
  • Enlarged and tender breasts, changes in the nipples, and possibly milk production
  • Feeling of fetal movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight gain

These symptoms can last for just a few weeks, for nine months, or even for several years. A very small percentage of patients with false pregnancy will arrive at the doctor's office or hospital with what feels like labor pains.

Tests for False Pregnancy

To determine whether a woman is experiencing a false pregnancy, the doctor will usually evaluate their symptoms, perform a pelvic exam and abdominal ultrasound -- the same tests used to feel and visualize the unborn baby during a normal pregnancy.

In a case of false pregnancy, no baby will be seen on the ultrasound, and there won't be any heartbeat. Sometimes, however, the doctor will find some of the physical changes that occur during pregnancy, such as an enlarged uterus and softened cervix. Urine pregnancy tests will always be negative in these cases, with the exception of rare cancers that produce similar hormones to pregnancy.

Certain medical conditions can mimic the symptoms of pregnancy, including ectopic pregnancy, morbid obesity, and cancer. These conditions may need to be ruled out with tests.

Treating False Pregnancy

When women believe they are pregnant, especially for a period of several months, it can be very upsetting for them to learn that they are not. Doctors need to gently break the news, and provide psychological support, including therapy, to help the patient with pseudocyesis recover from their disappointment.

How to Deal with a Pregnancy Scare

A pregnancy scare can be beyond stressful. Whether your period is super late or you’re not sure if you took emergency contraception in time, waiting to find out if you’re pregnant or not can be so, so scary. But the most important thing to remember is that while there are various resources out there to help you, you’re in control of your body, and any decision concerning it is yours to make. And as reproductive rights hang in the balance in states nationwide due to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, knowing your options when it comes to pregnancy, or possibly terminating a pregnancy, is incredibly important.

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Pregnancy scares are fairly common. A 2011 survey done by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, now called Power to Decide, found that 54 percent of young women surveyed said that they’ve had a pregnancy scare. And according to 2014 study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, more than 40 percent of women who reported a pregnancy scare went on to experience an unintended pregnancy.

Seventeen partnered with SexSmarts and the Kaiser Family Foundation to provide information and resources on a range of sexual health issues, including, everything you need to know about dealing with a pregnancy scare.

What are the symptoms of pregnancy?

There’s no immediate signal your body will send if you’re pregnant. Still, there are certain early pregnancy symptoms most people experience, such as a missed period, frequent urination, bloating, nausea, sore or enlarged breasts, and fatigue.

Of course, many of these symptoms can be indicative of other conditions and stresses on your body, so if you wake up feeling extra tired one Monday morning, take a deep breath — it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant. Anxiety and stress alone can give you some pretty fierce headaches. But still, if you are experiencing some of these symptoms, particularly the missed period, take a pregnancy test or schedule an appointment with your doctor to be sure.

How do pregnancy tests work?

If you are pregnant, your body starts producing a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), which can be detected in urine and in blood about 10 days after conception, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Pregnancy tests work by checking for this hormone, which is released after a fertilized egg implants itself in your uterus. Although some pregnancy test brands claim to detect pregnancy even before your missed period, it’s recommended to wait until at least one day after your missed period, per the Mayo Clinic. That way, you’re more likely to get more accurate results.

Where can I get a pregnancy test?

You can buy at-home pregnancy tests in most drugstores and supermarkets. Just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions — and check expiration dates — very carefully to get accurate results. If you’d prefer to have the test administered by your healthcare provider, or you’d like to get the results of your home test confirmed, you can see your doctor or call Planned Parenthood for a test. To find the Planned Parenthood Clinic nearest you, call their hotline at 1-800-230-7526 or visit their website.

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What if the pregnancy test result is positive?

Getting back a positive result on a pregnancy test can be a pretty emotional moment, so it’s okay if it takes you a few hours or days to figure out how you really feel about it. One of the best ways to deal with your possible anxiety and confusion is to talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust, someone who will support you and listen to your concerns with a generous and open mind.

While it can be comforting to turn to your closest friends, it’s also really important to confide in a trusted adult, too. Try talking to a parent, relative, friend’s parent, counselor, or doctor. A supportive adult will be able to help you understand the medical choices you have in front of you, as well as the options you have to consider — having the baby, having an abortion, or giving birth and placing the baby up for adoption. To ensure that you feel safe and protected, you might ask the person (or people) to keep your news confidential.

If you want an additional well-informed person to talk to, consider consulting with a trained counselor at a family planning clinic. They will be able to talk to you in confidence about your feelings, options, and the decisions you need to make. You can be referred to a family planning clinic by calling the Planned Parenthood hotline.

How do I prevent pregnancy scares in the future?

If you are sexually active, using a reliable method of birth control — or even better, combining a few reliable methods, like condoms and the birth control pill — is the best way to avoid an unplanned pregnancy.

Condoms are a great source of protection because they’re inexpensive, easy to find, have high rates of success, and guard against sexually transmitted infections. If you learn how to use condoms and get in the habit of carrying them with you just in case, you’ll always have a protection plan in place.

Birth control pills are another highly dependable method of protection against pregnancy, as long as you’re consistent about taking them in a regular manner, once a day. You might also consider other forms of birth control, such as an IUD or implant like Nexplanon. These all require a visit to your OB/GYN or healthcare provider, so make sure to call and schedule an appointment if you think one of these methods is best for you.

Another option is to abstain from sex, meaning you don’t have sex at all. Or, you and your partner might only engage in outercourse, which is a way to be sexually active without penetration or having vaginal sex.

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Should I take the morning after pill?

If a condom breaks or you forgot to take your pill a few times this month, you can take emergency contraception. In most cases, if taken within 72 hours, certain emergency contraceptive pills can help to reduce the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent.

There are a few types of emergency contraception available today — Plan B, Ella, and a copper IUD. Plan B is available over the counter, while Ella requires a prescription. A copper IUD can also act as an emergency contraceptive and doubles as a long-acting form of birth control. To act as an emergency contraceptive, the IUD must be inserted within five days of unprotected sex.

A new form of emergency contraception, Julie, is FDA-approved, and like Plan B, contains the hormone levonorgestrel (which prevents pregnancy). It’s an over-the-counter pill available exclusively at Walmart and doesn’t require an ID or prescription for purchase.

Emergency contraception works by inhibiting or delaying ovulation, preventing fertilization, or preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. Unlike mifepristone (a medical abortion drug), emergency contraception does not interrupt or terminate an established pregnancy; it prevents pregnancy from occurring. That means if you are already pregnant, it won’t work.

Emergency contraception can cause nausea for a day or so, but you can ask your provider to prescribe an anti-nausea medication. It’s also not foolproof — it only reduces your chance of pregnancy by 75 to 89 percent.

Keep in mind, emergency contraception is for emergencies. In other words, it is not a reliable long-term birth control method and it does not protect against STIs, before or after its use. It also does not protect against future acts of intercourse, so it is important that you use another form of birth control if you have sex again.

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  • Julie Is a New Form of Emergency Contraception

How much do emergency contraceptives cost?

Generally, emergency contraception pills such as Plan B and Julie (which, remember, are over the counter) typically cost between $30 and $50 at local pharmacies and retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target. Costs can be less — or even nonexistent — at family planning clinics and health centers. Copper IUDs are more expensive. These can range between $0 and $1,500, depending on your insurance plan, as they must be inserted by a doctor. Find out everything you need to know about emergency contraception here.

False pregnancy in women | Symptoms, causes and how to track false sensations of pregnancy



A false pregnancy is a condition that is characterized by signs of pregnancy in its actual absence. This disorder is the result of self-hypnosis in women who passionately dream of a child, or, on the contrary, are afraid of pregnancy and childbirth. As a rule, a false pregnancy develops against the background of hormonal disorders and nervous diseases: neurosis, depression. One of the most striking examples of the development of an imaginary pregnancy is the wife of Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. After giving birth to four daughters who were not eligible for the throne, she was obsessed with the birth of an heir. For many months, the queen was sure that she was expecting a child, but this was not true.

False pregnancy in women: symptoms

A false pregnancy is accompanied by signs characteristic of a normal pregnancy:

  • a woman stops menstruating;
  • mood swings are observed;
  • mammary glands increase in volume and become painful;
  • classic symptoms of toxicosis occur: food preferences change, nausea and vomiting appear;
  • growing belly;
  • woman feels fetal movements;
  • colostrum is secreted from the breast.

These symptoms cannot be called far-fetched. A woman really feels the signs of pregnancy, and they arise due to changes developing in the body. So, for example, the stomach increases due to the growth of subcutaneous tissue, and "baby movements" appear due to constipation and gases.

False pregnancy in women: causes

The psychological state of a woman plays a large role in the appearance of false symptoms of pregnancy. There are various reasons that stimulate their development:

  • the girl is sexually active and burdened by guilt;
  • a woman has been unsuccessfully struggling with infertility for many years;
  • a woman wants to have a baby to save her marriage;
  • a widowed woman;
  • a couple is experiencing the death of a child;
  • a close friend or relative is pregnant;
  • a woman is terrified of childbirth.

In some cases, the psychological factor turns out to be secondary. Physiological causes are leading.

  • Hormonal failure. Violations in the endocrine system can lead to amenorrhea - the disappearance of menstruation for six or more months. Against the background of this symptom, a woman can convince herself of the onset of pregnancy.
  • Tumors in the pelvic organs. They can also cause menstruation to stop and obsessive thoughts about the upcoming birth of a child.

In both cases, specialists observe disturbances in the functioning of the central nervous system and hormonal imbalance. In a false pregnancy in women, the level of follicle-stimulating hormone and prolactin increases, and the levels of luteinizing hormone decrease.

How long does a false pregnancy last?

An imaginary pregnancy can last 3-4 months. In exceptional cases, it is delayed up to 7 months, but on condition that the woman refuses to diagnose her condition.

Modern methods for determining pregnancy allow you to confirm or refute a woman's suspicions in a matter of minutes. Pregnancy tests are very popular. They are sensitive to human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone that begins to be actively produced from day 2 after implantation of a fertilized egg. However, in some cases, pregnancy tests are false positive. Errors happen:

  • if the test is defective;
  • if, after a recent termination of pregnancy, embryonic tissue remains in the uterus;
  • if the woman is taking fertility drugs containing hCG;
  • if the woman has tumors (hydatidiform mole or uterine chorionepithelioma).

For a more accurate diagnosis, it is advisable to contact a gynecologist. The standard list of studies includes:

  • Gynecological examination. Objective signs of pregnancy are already visible at 5-6 weeks. The uterus increases in size, and its body softens. The hue of the mucosa also changes - it becomes cyanotic (cyanotic).
  • Blood test for hCG. Laboratory research eliminates the error. With the help of the analysis, you can find out the concentration of hCG and the exact gestational age.
  • Ultrasound diagnostics. Allows you to detect pregnancy, starting from 3-4 weeks.

If the cause of a false pregnancy is a psychological disorder, the absence of pregnancy may come as a shock to the woman. Therefore, during the consultation based on the results of the examination, the doctor should show maximum tact. The imaginary pregnant woman must understand and accept the fact that she is mistaken. After that, the false sensations of pregnancy should disappear. If this does not happen, the help of a psychologist or psychiatrist may be required.

If the symptoms of a false pregnancy are provoked by physiology, a woman needs to undergo an additional examination and find out the exact cause of her condition. In case of hormonal imbalance, experts recommend a course of treatment with combined oral contraceptives (COCs). They normalize the level of hormones in the blood and the menstrual cycle.

Can a false pregnancy be repeated? In the vast majority of cases, this condition does not relapse. A pregnancy that occurs after a false pregnancy, as a rule, turns out to be real.


health pregnancy false pregnancy combined oral contraceptives (COCs)

"False pregnancy" in women. What's this?

Home/About clinic/Useful/ "False pregnancy" in women. What's this?

July 25, 2019

False (imaginary) pregnancy has been described by doctors since the time of Hippocarat. In Latin, this phenomenon is called pseudocyesis. In this case, a woman can feel all the signs of pregnancy, but in fact there is no developing fetus in the uterus. Most often, this condition appears in women who are suspicious and susceptible, with a mobile psyche, an overly excitable central nervous system, who have experienced stress or shock.

False pregnancy sometimes occurs in those women who strongly want to have a child. It may be the other way around - the fear of motherhood becomes the ground for its development. Patients who suffer from infertility for many years and undergo long-term treatment for this often feel falsely pregnant. Reaching despair, they begin, through self-hypnosis, to look for symptoms in themselves that indicate pregnancy.

A false pregnancy can be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Regular stress causes the body to produce a lot of pituitary hormones, the increase in which is also observed during real pregnancy.

Women may lag behind in the development of the mammary glands or uterus ("baby uterus"). Under these conditions, doctors may prescribe a long course of taking hormonal drugs that lead to menstrual irregularities. The absence of menstruation is often taken by a woman as a sign of pregnancy.

False pregnancy manifests itself in the same way as a real one.

Main (doubtful) signs of false pregnancy:

- Morning sickness or vomiting

- Increases the perception of smells, changes in taste sensations and preferences
- Mood swings occur
- In rare cases, a woman even feels the movements of a non-existent fetus

The above signs are considered doubtful because the woman herself talks about them. The situation becomes more convincing if there are likely signs. These include the following:

- Cessation of menses, long delays
- Enlargement and engorgement of the mammary glands, sometimes there is the appearance of characteristic pigmentation in the area of ​​​​the halo and nipples
- There may be a discharge from the nipples similar to colostrum
- Belly increases in size

The condition of a false pregnancy is so similar to a real pregnancy that the woman is firmly convinced that she is expecting a child. Claiming her interesting position, she does not deceive anyone!

The most surprising thing is that a test for the presence of hCG in the urine can also show a positive result. This fact will further convince the woman of a real pregnancy. However, hCG can also increase if there is a cyst, a pelvic tumor, or some other pathology.

Women may sometimes see two lines on the test during a false pregnancy.

Learn more