What we call a hysterical pregnancy goes by many other terms such as False Pregnancy, Pseudocyesis and Spurious Pregnancy. All of these terms refer to the appearance of certain pregnancy symptoms and a woman’s belief that she is pregnant, when in fact she is not.
It isn’t just humans who exercise hysterical pregnancy; it is a phenomenon observed in many mammalian species as well and has been documented historically since ancient times.
So clearly the phenomenon of the female experiencing pregnancy symptoms and being convinced of a pregnancy when conception hasn’t taken place is not just a figment of the imagination but has its basis in pathology.
Symptoms of a hysterical pregnancy
The symptoms of a false pregnancy are bewilderingly like those of a real pregnancy, and can therefore be very misleading indeed. A woman could experience an actual absence of periods or amenorrhea which is usually one of the first symptoms of a regular or real pregnancy.
Women experience all or many of the other symptoms of a pregnancy such as nausea or morning sickness, breast tenderness and so on. There is weight gain and characteristic expansion of the belly as well.
A hysterical pregnancy is to be differentiated from a simulated pregnancy which is a condition where a woman knowingly pretends to be pregnant, knowing very well that she is not.
The definitive characteristic of this phenomenon is that the woman herself is convinced that she is pregnant. In the past, when diagnostic techniques were not as advanced as they are today, even the doctors would be confused at the appearance of the pregnancy symptoms of pseudo pregnancy and in a significant proportion of cases; a misdiagnosis of pregnancy could be made by doctors themselves.
The interesting thing is that this phenomenon is also seen to occur among men with the Couvade Syndrome.
The causes of a hysterical pregnancy
It is a complex mesh of reasons that gives rise to this condition, which are both physical as well as mental in origin. It can be termed psychosomatic in nature, where there is an emotional or mental origin of the condition, which gives rise to very real, physical and tangible symptoms. There could be endocrine disturbances or the involvement of the cortex and/or the hypothalamus that give rise to the symptoms.
Women who have a very strong desire to be pregnant, or paradoxically those who are terrified that they may fall pregnant may experience a false pregnancy. A woman who wants desperately to get pregnant or a woman who desperately wants to avoid a pregnancy can experience some very significant inner mental conflict that can in turn give rise to endocrine disturbances.
There could also be a misinterpretation of certain symptoms, or an exaggeration of those symptoms by a woman who wants to get pregnant which can be the reason for a hysterical pregnancy; a sort of wish-fulfillment mechanism.
There is also the understanding that the stress of either wanting or not wanting a pregnancy can have some very real physical symptoms that could resemble pregnancy symptoms or which can be misunderstood as being due to a pregnancy.