What is a nervous pregnancy?
Nervous pregnancy, also known as false pregnancy, pseudocyesis, virtual pregnancy or phantom pregnancy, is a psychological disorder that can have several causes. In contrast to pregnancy denial, a woman suffering from pseudopregnancy is convinced that she is pregnant and presents various symptoms of pregnancy, even though she is not. This is an imaginary pregnancy, since no embryo is present.
This phenomenon can affect all women of childbearing age. Young women who are afraid of becoming pregnant, but also older women who want to have a child. With the advent of contraception and the availability of early pregnancy tests, teenage pregnancies have almost disappeared in France, affecting 1 to 6 out of every 22,000 women.
What causes nervous pregnancies?
There are many different causes of a nervous pregnancy.
In less serious cases, women with delayed periods begin to somatize pregnancy. Nevertheless, these women often become aware of reality more or less quickly with the arrival of periods.
In other cases, it can occur in women who have suffered a miscarriage, abortion or ectopic pregnancy. In conclusion, all women who have experienced pregnancies that were not carried to term are at greater risk of experiencing a nervous pregnancy. But hormonal imbalance, personal problems, severe depression or an ovarian tumour can also be the cause of a nervous pregnancy.
Nervous pregnancy is also very common in the following cases:
In young women with a phobic fear of becoming pregnant,
For women with a strong desire to have children,
For women approaching menopause and wishing to give birth one last time, the mourning of motherhood.
Nevertheless, fear and desire can be intertwined, because despite her desire for a child, a woman may dread the various stages of pregnancy. Nervous pregnancy therefore seems to be an unconscious way for her to confront her fears.
In all cases, nervous pregnancies are due to somatization of the body by the brain. In fact, the brain, and more specifically the hypothalamus (the gland that controls ovulation), controls hormones and the smooth running of the menstrual cycle. If intense stress is experienced, the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle may no longer be secreted, resulting in an absence of periods. But this phenomenon also affects the whole body, causing other symptoms that can be associated with pregnancy.
Women who often experience excessive fear are therefore more vulnerable than others to this phenomenon.
What are the symptoms of nervous pregnancy?
The symptoms of a nervous pregnancy are similar to those of pregnancy:
Loss of appetite
Swollen belly (in the most severe cases, as in the 8th month)
Sensations of movement of the "foetus" or even contractions and the onset of labour
Everything points to pregnancy, yet there's no trace of a foetus.
If these symptoms occur, we advise you to consult a healthcare professional.
How is nerve pregnancy diagnosed?
The diagnosis of nervous pregnancy consists in proving that the woman is not pregnant. This is usually done by means of a simple pregnancy test. However, the pregnancy test can sometimes show a positive result when it is actually negative, as hormones from the hypothalamus can distort the results. An ultrasound scan can also be performed to determine whether or not the pregnancy is actually present.
What treatment is available for a nervous pregnancy?
Nervous pregnancies often occur in women suffering from psychological distress. Psychological follow-up is therefore essential.
A multi-disciplinary approach can also be envisaged, where the woman is surrounded by doctors, gynecologists and psychiatrists, in order to gradually raise her awareness and prove to her that she is indeed not pregnant.
However, doctors are often confronted with the fact that the patient is convinced that she is pregnant, despite tests proving the contrary. The patient must be taught to focus on her body and sensations, and to overcome her fears.
In addition to traditional medicine, alternative therapies such as homeopathic treatment, biological decoding of disease, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy can also be considered.
Last but not least, support from family and friends is essential in the case of a nervous pregnancy.
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