Cryptic Pregnancy

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Cryptic pregnancy

Did you know that there are some cases where a woman will not know she is pregnant until she goes into labour? While it may seem unbelievable, this condition is not as uncommon as you think. These women will have very mild symptoms of pregnancy such as morning sickness, weight gain, or even missed periods.

What is a Cryptic Pregnancy?

A cryptic pregnancy or stealth pregnancy is when the woman who is pregnant remains unaware of her pregnancy due to very subtle pregnancy symptoms. Most of these women would have been told that they could not have children, or they would’ve undergone sterilization. In these cases, the hCG levels are also low and hence the reason for an undetected pregnancy.

Causes of Cryptic Pregnancy

Below are some of the reasons why a cryptic pregnancy takes place. While most of them are caused due to hormonal imbalance, some of them are psychological.

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Small cysts on the ovaries can cause a hormonal imbalance in women. PCOS condition is on the rise as lifestyle changes occur rapidly.

  • Recent Pregnancy

Some women might become pregnant soon after pregnancy. In such cases, the hormone levels do not fall back to normal.

  • Perimenopause

Perimenopause is a condition where the female body seems to be progressing towards exhibiting symptoms of menopause thus making detecting a pregnancy difficult.

  • Low Body Fat

In case of athletes or anybody with low body fat, the hormone levels will fluctuate.

  • Birth Control Pills

Most birth control pills contain hormones, and these affect the natural birth hormones.

  • Stress

As our lifestyles become increasingly fragile, we take on more stress to stay shoulder to shoulder with the world. Stress is one of the major factors of fluctuating hormone levels, especially in women.

Causes of cryptic pregnancy: Stress

Common Signs and Symptoms of Cryptic Pregnancy

Below are some of the symptoms that are similar to a regular pregnancy along with the reasons as to why they are not detected:

  • Period like bleeding during the pregnancy. However, these instances will be short-lived but enough to resemble a regular menstrual cycle.
  • Typical symptoms like nausea and vomiting are very mild and are easily mistaken for other conditions.
  • The foetus will be present just like a normal pregnancy except that it will be nestled at the back of the uterus towards the spine.
  • Though there is movement in the uterus, it is very similar to the feeling of gas passing through.

Why is This Pregnancy Cryptic?

There are many reasons why your pregnancy is cryptic. Some of these reasons are:

  • Urine and blood tests for pregnancy will come back negative due to fluctuating hormone levels.
  • Some women will feel early labour contractions which will feel like the usual cramping during the menstrual cycle.
  • No sign of pregnancy on the ultrasound in most cases due to difficulty in detecting the foetus.

What Happens to the Foetus?

Since most cryptic pregnancies last longer than regular pregnancies, the idea that the development of the foetus is affected is a common one. However, this is a common fallacy. The development of the foetus takes place to the same extent, but at a slower pace.

However, since the woman is unaware of being pregnant, she will not be focused on prenatal care. Avoiding smoking and alcohol will not be on her top priority list, and this might inadvertently affect the foetus’ health.

Bleeding or Continued Periods During Cryptic Pregnancy

In a cryptic pregnancy, the woman will continue to bleed just as she would during a regular menstrual cycle. However, the duration of the bleeding will be short. The bleeding could occur at regular intervals or could be random. The flow could also range from spotting to heavy and could be pink, red, black, brown or even purple. This occurs because the uterus is removing the inner lining and is not indicative of a miscarriage.

Periods during cryptic pregnancy

Weight Loss or Gain

The weight loss or gain in a cryptic pregnancy will be gradual. In the case of weight gain, it will not follow a pattern similar to regular pregnancies and will be very slow. Weight loss might occur due to food aversion that happens in the early days of most pregnancies. Since the mother will not know that she is pregnant, she will not ensure that she gets adequate nutrition for both herself and her baby.

Can Cryptic Pregnancy Go Undetected in Ultrasound?

Many cryptic pregnancies go undetected even in ultrasounds. One must remember that a woman who does not think that she is pregnant will not get ultrasound tests as often as a pregnant woman will. There are many reasons why an ultrasound will not detect a cryptic ultrasound.

  1. Retroversion Of The Uterus: Retroversion Of The Uterus is a condition where the uterus is tilted either sideward or towards the back. If the uterus is in this position, then it makes it hard for an ultrasound to detect a foetus.
  2. Bicornuate Uterus: Bicornuate Uterus is congenital condition, the uterus grows in a heart shape with two horns that are divided partially or fully by a wall of tissue. This makes it harder for the woman to conceive as well as increases the chances of a cryptic pregnancy.
  3. Scar Tissue: Scar tissue does not allow the ultrasound to get a complete picture as it blocks the waves of the test. Abnormal scarring can happen due to surgery that may have been performed on the stomach in the past.

How Are Negative Test Results Possible?

In a normal pregnancy, the test is based on the amount of hCG in your body. hCG is a hormone produced by the placenta and builds up in the urine and blood. However, in the case of a cryptic pregnancy, the uterine lining is regularly removed from the body thus not allowing the hCG levels to build up. Hence, the urine and blood tests for pregnancy is negative in a cryptic pregnancy.

How Long Can a Cryptic Pregnancy Last?

The gestation period for a cryptic pregnancy is much longer than that of a regular pregnancy. This is because the hCG hormone is not absorbed by the body and so it does not get the signals to focus on developing the foetus. Regular periods also prolong the gestation period. In fact, the gestation period is correlated to the flow of the period. The heavier the flow, the longer the gestation period. Cryptic pregnancies can take more than 40 weeks and have been known to last as long as two years.

How Can a Woman Not Detect a Pregnancy When She Has Missed Her Period?

There are many reasons why women miss their periods on a regular basis that is not because of pregnancy. These range from stress to PCOS to menopause. Also, the spotting or light flow in a cryptic pregnancy can be mistaken for some form of the menstrual period.

Complications

Some complications of a cryptic pregnancy include:

  • No access to prenatal care as the mother is unaware of the pregnancy. Complications like hypertension and diabetes can remain untreated and cause harm to both the mother and the baby’s health.
  • The mother will not avoid certain harmful substances like cigarettes or alcohol since she doesn’t know that she is pregnant.

How to Prevent Cryptic Pregnancy?

If you are in the reproductive age of your life, then you must be aware that you could have a cryptic pregnancy. If you experience any pain or changes in your abdomen or pelvic region, then you must consult with a doctor regarding the same. If you do not get your periods regularly, then you must inform your gynaecologist of this condition for a thorough check-up.

Cryptic pregnancies are hard to detect and will upset your life as you will not have any time to prepare. Be aware of the chances of such a pregnancy and keep you gynaecologist in the loop about your reproductive health.

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