Table of Contents  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 369-372  

Delusion of pregnancy and other pregnancy-mimicking conditions: Dissecting through differential diagnosis

Department of Psychiatry, Medical College, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Date of Web Publication18-Mar-2014

Correspondence Address:
Seshadri Sekhar Chatterjee
AF 20 A (D), Baivab Apartment, Hanapara, Krishnapur - 700 102, Kolkata, West Bengal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0975-2870.128986

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The delusion of pregnancy is defined as the belief of being pregnant despite factual evidence to the contrary. Even being more common in a developing country, the literature about delusion of pregnancy from India is meager. The present article reports the case of delusion of pregnancy in an unmarried female associated with subclinical hypothyroidism and prominent sibling rivalry from psychological aspect. The literature in this field has addressed for the organic and psychodynamic, psychosocial aspect of this disorder and its difference from other disorders mimicking pregnancy and its relevance to the treatment plan.

Keywords: Delusional disorder, delusion of pregnancy, hypothyroidism, pseudocyesis

How to cite this article:
Chatterjee SS, Nath N, Dasgupta G, Bhattacharyya K. Delusion of pregnancy and other pregnancy-mimicking conditions: Dissecting through differential diagnosis. Med J DY Patil Univ 2014;7:369-72

How to cite this URL:
Chatterjee SS, Nath N, Dasgupta G, Bhattacharyya K. Delusion of pregnancy and other pregnancy-mimicking conditions: Dissecting through differential diagnosis. Med J DY Patil Univ [serial online] 2014 [cited 2024 Feb 24];7:369-72. Available from:

Delusion of pregnancy (DP) is a Somatic Type of Delusional Disorder classified by the DSM-5 within Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders. [1] It should be distinguished from four additional conditions imitating pregnancy:

  1. Pseudocyesis. Development of the classic symptoms of pregnancy - amenorrhea, nausea, breast enlargement and pigmentation, abdominal distension, and labor pains-occurs in a nonpregnant woman. It is included in the Not Elsewhere Classified section of Somatic Symptom Disorders, in DSM-5. [1]
  2. Pseudopregnancy. A somatic state resembling pregnancy that is triggered by organic factors (e.g. physical symptoms caused by endocrine tumors).
  3. Simulated pregnancy. When a woman admits to be pregnant, although she is aware that she is not. [2] It is a Factitious Disorder Imposed on Self classified by the DSM-5 within the category of Somatic Symptom Disorders. [1]
  4. Couvade syndrome. Where the father develops a variety of somatic symptoms before, during, or after the birth of the child. His behavior can resemble that of pregnant women although he knows that he is not pregnant. [3]

DP is rare in developed countries due to recent advancement of more specific and accurate methods of detecting pregnancy. But it occurs more often in developing country. [4] The literature on DP in India is however scanty. [5] We hereby present a case of DP. The case needs to be differentiated from pseudocyesis. The case could present diagnostic impasse especially if other psychotic features are not fully manifested.

  Case Report Top

History Proper

A 30-year old Hindu, unmarried female, educated up to class 12 from rural background, staying with her parents and elder sister complained of having occasional self-muttering and aggressive behavior toward her sister, started 5 years ago, when her sister passed in her graduation examination, but she couldn't.

She started saying that it was not her sister but she passed the examination. Later on she used to say that she got a job in "Indian Police Lecturer," an imaginary organization, when her sister actually got a job. She explained that being envious, her parents and sister were conspirating against her.

After 2 years during her elder sister's wedding she stayed 3 days in her neighbor's house and started demanding that it was her husband's property and began applying sankha and sindur (Hindu marriage symbol).

Afterwards when her parents tried to get her married, she resisted vehemently divulging that she is already married to S.S who has no real existence. A year after her sister was reported to be pregnant she claimed that she has also conceived. For this she visited local doctor and performed USG which came negative but she declared that the report was wrong continued with her belief. The patient was able to maintain her self-care. Sleep, appetite, bladder bowel were normal. She informed having only had watery discharge, though her mother reported that she had regular menstrual history.

During Interview

During interview, she revealed a well-systematized delusion of pregnancy. In response to specific question about pregnancy, she stated that she had been pregnant with a son for last 12 months; she could feel the fetal movement, experience pain in abdomen, and complained of occasional shortness of breath due to gradual increasing fetal size.

Mental Status Examination

Mental status examination (MSE) revealed a middle-aged, medium built, well-kempt woman, with adequate eye contact, who was then agitated, suspicious, and hostile toward her parents and anyone who tried to contradict her view. Rapport established with effort. Affect was anxious, irritable, communicable and congruent to thought content. Speech was coherent, relevant, goal directed with normal reaction time. Thought content displayed somatic delusion, delusion of persecution, delusion of reference, delusion of misidentification. No formal thought disorder noted.

On repeated interview throughout her stay in the hospital we failed to elicit any other psychotic features other than multiple delusions none of which were bizarre. Though history suggested self-muttering behavior, ward observation did not reveal any muttering or smiling behavior. The patient also gave valid explanation for her muttering (it was just grumble what she used to do when she feels irritated).

The differential diagnosis considered were delusion of pregnancy and paranoid schizophrenia; and the patient was put on tab haloperidol 5 mg BD and tab clonazepam 1 mg BD.

Laboratory Investigation

TC, DC, ESR, platelet, urea, creatinine, and LFT revealed no abnormality except Hb 9 gm % and Eosinophil count 9%. Blood sugar level, kidney function test, complete hemogram, and ultrasound abdomen was within normal limits. Thyroid profile displayed normal FT4 and mildly elevated TSH 9.64 mIU/L. Her serum prolactin level was 26 ng/mL. A vitamin B12 estimation and MRI or CT imaging were necessary but could not be carried out due to financial constrain.

Psychometric Assessment

  • Her baseline Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) showed P19, N09, and G49.
  • Eysenck Personality Questionnaire indicates psychoticism.
  • Rorschach Ink Blot Test indicates psychotic illness on the part of the patient. Pathognomic signs of contamination and confabulation are evident in the Rorschach Protocol.
  • Thematic Apperception Test revealed delusional theme and sibling rivalry.
  • Brown Assessment of Beliefs Scale (BABS) gave a total score of 21.


After 3 days due to extrapyramidal side effects the patient was shifted to risperidone, which hiked up to 8 mg per day in next 7 days. For her medical comorbidity she was prescribed iron and folic acid tablet and Eltroxin 25 μg. Her psychotic symptoms gradually decreased; 2 weeks later, though she claimed to be pregnant with a male fetus though conviction became less. By the fourth week she started telling that as doctors are telling there is no pregnancy, so she may be wrong. Afterward she became almost free from the presenting symptoms and after 45 days of admission she was discharged on risperidone 2 mg daily, iron and folic acid and thyroxin 25 μg/day.

  Discussion Top

By definition, delusions are false firm ideas that cannot be corrected by reasoning and are out of keeping with patient's educational and cultural background. DP is etiologically heterogeneous phenomena. They can be triggered purely by organic factors or they can develop as an adaptation to stress induced by organic and/or psychological factors.

Biologically DP has been described in schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, mental retardation, senile dementia, psychotic depression, hyperprolactinemia, drug-induced lactation, [6] postpartum thyroiditis, metabolic syndrome, polydipsia, FTLD/MND. [7]

Our patient described above had normal serum prolactin level and subclinical hypothyroidism. Her increased eosinophil count can be explained by intestinal parasite infestation as it is highly prevalent in rural India. It was not a consequence of antipsychotic treatment.

Psychologically DP may be conceptualized as:

  1. Cognitive misinterpretation of bodily sensations and physical changes,
  2. Severe ego pathology, and poor reality testing,
  3. Wish-fulfillment,
  4. Separation individuation concept,
  5. An attempt to recapture the lost love object,
  6. Emotional attachment, i.e. a strong emotional bond between mother and daughter,
  7. Sustainment and perpetuation of cultural beliefs,
  8. Unconscious attempt to change the life situations of women in conservative societies,
  9. A release of suppressed cultural attitudes and fears, and
  10. Amplification of cultural themes. [8]

In this patient we noted multiple delusions (delusion of persecution, somatic delusion) which does not contradict the diagnosis of delusional disorder as DSM 5 includes "one (or more) delusion" in the diagnostic criteria. [1] And the central theme of all this delusion is the same.

A strong sense of sibling rivalry has been operative since early childhood and which have a definite temporal relationship between events in life of patient's sister and her delusional content. It can be said that feeling of rejection, helplessness, and self-inadequacy are being manifested through these delusion. Moreover, low SES of the woman along with no social support exacerbates the problem. She had been continuously criticized and looked down upon. The delusion of having a male child can be attributed to obvious pressures of a patriarchal society and only a male child can bring relief by restoring her dignity and sense of adequacy. [8]

Regarding her medical comorbidity, hypothyroidism is an established associated factor with psychiatric manifestation. Although mood and affective disorders are more common, studies have shown, however, that 5% to 15% of myxedematous patients have some form of psychosis. Although Asher's study of 14 patients and resulting description of "myxedema madness" has been often cited as a typical example of psychosis secondary to hypothyroidism; [9] subsequent case reports have revealed considerable variation in clinical psychotic presentations. [10],[11] Our finding of delusion of misidentification were also noted in a previous case report. [12] Psychosis typically emerges after the onset of physical symptoms, often after a period of years or months. [13] Disorders of thought may occur in patients with either clinical or subclinical hypothyroidism, which suggests that psychosis may be unrelated to the absolute degree of thyroid hormone deficit. [14] Cohen [15] described a case report similar to us but it rarely reported in India.

Earlier studies also reported psychosis associated with anemia, specially vitamin B12 deficiency. Various psychiatric manifestations can occur in cobalamine deficiency. [16] Psychotic depression, paranoid schizophrenia, [17] and other mood changes have been commonly reported.

  Conclusion Top

The case highlights the possibility of delusion of pregnancy (DP) if a patient presents with features suggestive of pseudocyesis. The obstetricians being more familiar with pseudocyesis might tend to overlook the other possibilities in such cases. This would be especially true if there are no associated clear-cut psychotic features. [18]

The two conditions warrant a different line of management. Antipsychotics [19] play a key role in the DP along with the treatment of medical co-morbidities. [20] On the other hand they are of limited role in patients with pseudocyesis. [21] Psychodynamic and supportive psychotherapy could play a pivotal role in the management of later.

  Acknowledgement Top

We acknowledge our gratitude toward all the colleagues and senior of our department for their help and support.

  References Top

1.American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5. Washington, DC: APA; 2013.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Dumont M. The unfortunate pregnancy of the first French feminist, Olympe de Gouges. Rev Fr Gynecol Obstet 1989; 84:63-6.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Mayer C, Kapfhammer HP. Couvade syndrome, a psychogenic illness in the transition to fatherhood. Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 1993;61:354-60.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Qureshi NA. Delusional Pregnancy. Indian J Psychiatry 1999;41:384.  Back to cited text no. 4
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
5.Dutta S, Vankar GK. Delusions of pregnancy - A report of four cases. Indian J Psychiatry 1996;38:254-6.  Back to cited text no. 5
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
6.Ahuja N, Moorhead S, Lloyd AJ, Cole AJ. Antipsychotic-induced hyperprolactinemia and delusion of pregnancy. Psychosomatics 2008;49:163-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Larner AJ. Delusion of pregnancy in frontotemporal lobar degeneration with motor neurone disease (FTLD/MND). Behav Neurol 2008;19:199-200.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Kornischka J, Schneider F. Delusion of pregnancy a case report and review of the literature. Psychopathology 2003; 36:276-8.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Hall RC. Psychiatric effects of thyroid hormone disturbance. Psychosomatics 1983;24:7-18.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Granet RB, Kahlman TP. Hypothyroidism and psychosis: A case illustration of the diagnostic dilemma in psychiatry. J Clin Psychiatry 1978;39:260-3.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Davis AT. Psychotic states associated with disorders of thyroid function. Int J Psychiatry Med 1989;19:47-56.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Madakasira S, Hall TB. Capgras syndrome in a patient with myxedema. Am J Psychiatry 1981;138:1506-8.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Logothetis J. Psychotic behaviour as the indicator of adult myxoedema. J Nerv Ment Dis 1963;136:561-8.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Lehrmann JA, Jain S. Myxedema psychosis with grade II hypothyroidism. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 2002;24:275-8.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Cohen AJ. Thyroid dysfunction and false pregnancy. West J Med 1992;156:89.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Hector M, Burton JR. What are the psychiatric manifestations of vit. B12 deficiency? J Am Geriatr Soc 1998;36:405-12.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Shulman R. Psychiatric aspects of pernicious anemia. Br Med J 1967;3:266-70.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Rosch DS, Sajatovic M, Sivec H. Behavioral characteristics in delusional pregnancy: A matched control group study. Int J Psychiatry Med 2002;32:295-303.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Chari S. The lesson from a yellow psychotic patient. Hosp Med 2002;63:370-1.  Back to cited text no. 19
20.Tachman ML, Guthrie GP Jr. Hypothyroidism: Diversity of presentation. Endocr Rev 1984;5:456-65.  Back to cited text no. 20
21.Yadav T, Balhara YP, Kataria DK. Pseudocyesis versus delusion of pregnancy: Differential diagnoses to be kept in mind. Indian J Psychol Med 2012;34:82-4.  Back to cited text no. 21
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