Munchausen syndrome

Almost everybody has played sick at least once in his or her life. Whether you did it to avoid going to school, a social event, or work, it probably wasn’t too big a deal. However, many people are unaware that “playing sick” can become serious when done excessively. There are many individuals who go so far as to consciously tamer with their medical records. This psychiatric ailment is called Munchausen Syndrome, an umbrella term for factitious disorders, or disorders characterized by persons who pretend to be ill to gain sympathy.

Symptoms of Munchausen Syndrome:

  • Consciously distorting medical history
  • Consciously creating fake lab results
  • Consciously faking illness and/or making fake physical findings by cutting oneself
  • Allowing oneself to be unnecessarily subjected to unnecessary (and therefore often dangerous) medical tests and procedures as a result of faked illnesses
  • Tendency to wander from hospital to hospital in search of medical help for imaginary illnesses/comfort

Risk Factors and Causes of Munchausen Syndrome

Munchausen Syndrome and its causes are not well understood. Some case studies have shown that those with a history of child abuse or childhood neglect are more likely to develop Munchausen Syndrome, but not all individuals with the syndrome were abused or neglected as children. Frequent hospitalizations during childhood coupled with child abuse can result in Munchausen Syndrome, as the individual probably felt safe in the hospital as a child and seeks to recreate that feeling of safety as an adult. People with Munchausen’s Syndrome often describe their parents as having been distant, and often refuse or reject counseling.

Treatment Options and Indicators for Munchausen Syndrome

Munchausen Syndrome is a psychiatric disorder, thus the only known and potentially effective treatment option is long-term psychiatric counseling. There is no guarantee for its effectiveness and it is difficult to convince the individual suffering form the syndrome to get counseling. Although persons with Munchausen Syndrome are usually seeking medical attention by pretending to be sick, they are reluctant to seek medical attention for their actual disorder, and counseling has not shown itself to be effective as a cure. The most realistic option for a person with Munchausen Syndrome is to focus on managing the disorder rather than curing it.

Munchausen Syndrome is difficult to diagnose because of its ambiguity; a person may be truly ill and not faking it, and its’ challenging to figure out if someone is truly sick or not because persons with Munchausen Syndrome frequently make themselves sick on purpose. A diagnosis of Munchausen Syndrome can be made when all other legitimate illnesses are ruled out. Although there are no standard treatments for Munchausen syndrome, treatment often focuses on managing the condition, rather than trying to cure it. The most common options are psychotherapy and behavior counseling and, if possible, family therapy also may be suggested.

View Resources

Munchausen Syndrome – Definition, causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Munchausen syndrome.

Chronic Factitious Syndrome – Description of Factitious syndrome and a sub-section of the syndrome: Munchausen syndrome.

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