What Is Munchausen Syndrome?

Munchausen syndrome is a mental disorder in which a person routinely fakes or exaggerates an illness or injury in order to gain attention (via Cleveland Clinic). Also known as factitious disorder imposed on self, Munchausen syndrome is not the same as faking an illness to obtain medicine or financial compensation. People with Munchausen syndrome are acutely aware they are faking an illness or injury and will undergo potentially dangerous tests and procedures in order to gain sympathy and receive special attention from loved ones and medical professionals. Some ways in which people tend to fake illness with this disorder include exaggerating symptoms, altering diagnostic tests, and even self-harm tactics such as deliberate dehydration.

As a result, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose this condition, according to Cleveland Clinic. However, there are certain warning signs you can look out for, including an inconsistent medical history, ambiguous symptoms, problems with self-esteem and identity, extensive knowledge of medical terminology, the emergence of new symptoms after a negative test result, and symptoms that only occur when no one else is around. While the exact cause is still unknown, some theories suggest that Munchausen may stem from early childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma. Unfortunately, Munchausen syndrome isn't always directed toward oneself. It can also be directed toward family members.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy can cause harm to others

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) is a mental disorder in which a parent or caregiver makes up or intentionally causes an illness or injury to a person under their care, most often a child (via Healthline). While the caregiver is the one who has the disorder, the child is the one who suffers the consequences. People with MSP often lie about their child's symptoms to gain attention. They can even go as far as causing physical symptoms by withholding food from the child, poisoning their food, or causing infections. They may even subject their child to risky tests and operations. Thus, MSP is considered child abuse in addition to a mental disorder.

MSP is most common among mothers of young children, according to Healthline. MSP's warning signs include a history of repeated illnesses and injuries, symptoms that contradict test results, and symptoms that worsen when the child is at home. Meanwhile, common warning signs of caretakers with MSP include exaggerating a child's symptoms, appearing to enjoy being in a hospital, refusing to leave a child alone, performing attention-seeking behavior, and a need to come across as a devoted parent. If you have symptoms of MSP or know someone who does, seek immediate help.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.