Munchausen syndrome refers to the most severe and chronic physical form of factitious disorders which are disorders that are invented or self-inflicted. Munchausen Syndrome is a mental disorder in which individuals with a deeply rooted need for attention pretend to be sick or force themselves to become sick or injured on purpose. Those suffering from Munchausen syndrome may fabricate symptoms, tell dramatic and elaborate medical stories, push for risky medical operations, or try to change laboratory test results in order to evoke further sympathy and concern from family, friends, doctors, and other medical professionals and support staff.
The causes of Munchausen Syndrome are largely unknown. Some theories speculate that those suffering from this syndrome may have experienced a significant or severe illness during childhood or have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused. Though Munchausen Syndrome is a rare disorder, several factors may put an individual at higher risk of developing the syndrome. These factors include a the experience of a traumatic childhood, an illness during childhood which required a great deal of care and nurturing, a poor sense of identity and low self-esteem, personality disorders, or the loss of a loved one through death, illness, or abandonment early in life. In many cases, those affected by Munchausen Syndrome have a variety of other mental disorders and afflictions. This syndrome may result in injury or death from self-inflicted wounds or illnesses, loss of organs from unnecessary surgeries, alcohol and drug abuse, and financial complications.
Munchausen Syndrome Resources
Clinical Case of Munchausen Syndrome in a Patient with Type I Diabetes
Munchausen Syndrome: Towards a Psychodynamic Understanding
Munchausen Syndrome in the Emergency Department Mostly Difficult, Sometimes Easy to Diagnose: A Case report and Review of the Literature
The Modern Munchausen Syndrome
Playing Patient, Playing Doctor: Munchausen Syndrome, Clinical S/M, and Ruptures of Medical Power Primary HIV Infection Masquerading as Munchausen Syndrome
Polle Syndrome: Children of Munchausen
Munchausen Syndrome with Pulmonary Manifestations
Cardiac Munchausen Syndrome
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
Similar to Munchausen Syndrome, Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) is a type of factitious disorder. Those afflicted with MSP act as if the individual for whom they are caring has a physical or mental illness when, in reality, the individual is not really suffering from said illness. The term “by proxy” means “through a substitute”. The adult perpetrator with MSP directly inflicts or lies about illness in another person under his or her care, typically a child aged six or under. MSP is considered a form of abuse by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. Although this disorder is extremely difficult to assess, estimates suggest that about 1,000 of the 2.5 million cases of child abuse reported annually are related to MSP.
Those with MSP have an inner need for the person in their care to be viewed as ill or injured. Often, people with MSP are willing to have the child or patient undergo painful and risky tests and operations in order to receive the sympathy and special attention afforded to the people who are truly ill as well as their families. This type of disorder most often occurs with mothers who intentionally describe non-existent symptoms in their children to garner attention. Many will purposefully injure or harm their children as well.
An individual with MSP uses the repeated hospitalizations as a way to receive praise and adulation from others for his or her devotion to the child’s care. The “sick” child is often used as a means to establishing and continuing a relationship with the doctor or other health care provider. Possible warning signs of MSP in children including repeated hospitalizations, signs of chemicals in the child’s blood, stool, or urine, symptoms that improve in the hospital but worsen at home, and worsening symptoms that only the mother (or father) observes but are not witnessed by medical professionals.
A combination of biological and psychological factors contributes to MSP. Similar to Munchausen Syndrome, some theories suggest that a history of abuse, neglect, abandonment as a child or the early loss of a parent might be indicators in the MSP development. In addition, major stress, (often in the form of marital problems) can trigger MSP.
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Resources
What is, and what is Not, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
A New Name for Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Defining Fabricated or Induced Illness by Carers
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in Twins
A Dignified and Caring Mother: An Examination of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Case Law
Monsters in the Closet: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
Beyond Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Identification and Treatment of Child Abuse in Medical Setting
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: Pediatrics in Review
A Practitioner’s Complaint and Proposed Direction: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, Factitious Disorder by Proxy, and Fabricated and/or Induced Illness in Children
A Case of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Abuse Perpetrated by Men
Mothering to Death
Co- morbidity Associated with Fabricated Illness
United States Department of Health and Human Services: Perpetrators of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
This resource provides an extensive collection of links to academic articles and other information on MSP.
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States.
This resource contains a wealth of introductory and specific information on Munchausen’s Syndrome, including a section on the differences between Munchausen’s Syndrome and hypochondria.
Dr. Marc Feldman’s Munchausen’s Syndrome Page
This resource contains information and links to additional articles on Munchausen’s Syndrome.
Kids Health: Munchausen Proxy Syndrome
This resource offers information on how to identify MSP as well its symptoms and treatment.