Munchausen Syndrome

What is Munchausen Syndrome?

Munchausen Syndrome is also known as factitious disorder. There are many kinds of factitious disorders, but Munchausen syndrome is considered the most severe. This is a mental illness where the patients have a compulsive need to fake being sick. This is different from hypochondria in that patients usually do not believe they are really sick but will continue to act as if they were sick.

The syndrome is named after one of the world’s most famous liars, Baron Karl Friedrich von Munchausen (1720 – 1797). The cause is unknown but patients most prone to developing it are from 20 to 40 years old. Patients with Munchausen syndrome often have other mental health issues, especially Munchausen syndrome by proxy (factitious syndrome by proxy). This is a form of child abuse where the caretaker of a child fakes that child’s illness through lies or direct abusive actions such as refusing to feed the child.

What are the Symptoms of Munchausen Syndrome?

Symptoms vary wildly depending on what type of illness the patient wants the medical profession to believe he or she has.

Symptoms include

A bizarre medical history, a conflicting medical history which suggests lies are being told, many scars on the patient, highly knowledgeable about medical procedures and terms, goes to many hospitals and doctors over a short period of time; develops new symptoms after tests show that nothing is wrong.

Munchausen Syndrome Causes

Munchausen syndrome is a mental health condition without one specific cause. It is believed to be caused by a number of different mental health conditions as well as being a response to trauma. For some patients, having a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse can trigger this condition. Having a recent death or illness in the family or the patient having a history of illness as a child are other causes. For those who had a serious illness as children, the attention they received at that time may cause a need for that same attention later in life when they feel isolated or lonely.

This syndrome sometimes develops in patients who want to have healthcare careers or who already work in the healthcare industry. Having a personality disorder or poor self-esteem can also be causes. Disorders such as passive-aggressive personality, self-destructive behavior, borderline personality disorder or having a history of poor impulse control can all be factors. Another risk factor is the age of the patient. This syndrome is more common in young people and in middle-aged patients. However, patients of any age can develop it.

How is Munchausen Syndrome Treated?

There is no cure for Munchausen syndrome. Patients have been known to get better when they stick to a plan strict plan.

Treatments include

Therapy and medication are most effective for people affected with Munchausen syndrome. However, getting a patient to stick to a treatment plan is highly difficult. Family therapy and talk therapy (better known as psychotherapy) have produced good results but these types of therapies are expensive and difficult programs to get into.

Children who have been the victims of adults with Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy are themselves prone to developing Munchausen’s syndrome. Therapy needs to begin for these children as soon as they can be separated from their abusers.

Munchausen Syndrome Prevention

The only way to prevent Munchausen syndrome is for patients to seek help for mental and personality disorders before they lead to this syndrome. Once the syndrome has begun, it can be difficult for others to recognize this syndrome in a patient. That makes it important for the patient to recognize that it is a problem and to seek help for it. With psychotherapy, it is possible for some patients to prevent the syndrome from continuing and getting worse. For many patients, the prevention of causing real bodily harm is the goal. Some patients make themselves sick as a part of this syndrome. Medication and therapy may be needed to prevent this from occurring.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
March 09, 2018