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FAQ: Munchausen Syndrome Print E-mail
Written by Phillip LaVeque   
Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Munchausen syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which a person consciously fakes the symptoms of a physical disorder for attention. The person may have many medical tests and surgical procedures.


Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) is a parenting disorder. The parents, usually mothers, fake symptoms in their children. The child is then subjected to unnecessary tests or surgeries.

What is going on in the body?
A person with Munchausen syndrome fakes or pretends to have symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms are those of a specific illness. The individual fakes symptoms for psychological reasons rather than for financial gain or to get out of responsibilities. The person convincingly presents with intentional symptoms. For example, someone may inject germs into his or her own bloodstreams to cause illness.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
The causes of Munchausen syndrome are not well understood. Little is known about its psychological components. The person is usually very unwilling to enter any kind of therapy. So it's difficult to do research on the disorder. Some case reports have suggested a history of childhood abuse, combined with frequent illnesses that required hospitalization. Hospitalizations may have been the only time when the child felt safe or nurtured.

A person with Munchausen syndrome often describes his or her parents as having been rejecting and distant. A person with Munchausen syndrome seems to be trying to create a nurturing parent-like bond with the healthcare providers by faking illness.

There is profile of a parent who is likely to have Munchausen syndrome by proxy. These parents are usually mothers. They are often healthcare professionals. They are very friendly with health professionals and very cooperative with medical procedures. They appear quite concerned about the child, and are sometimes described as overly concerned.

What are the treatments for the condition?
No one treatment has been very effective for Munchausen syndrome. A person with this condition is generally active in seeking treatment for the factitious disorder. However, the person is usually extremely reluctant to seek treatment for the Munchausen syndrome itself.

Treatment focused on managing Munchausen syndrome, rather than trying to cure it, is more realistic. The aim is to help the person avoid unnecessary, costly, and risky medical procedures.

Once Munchausen syndrome by proxy is recognized, the parent needs to be confronted and offered help. Because it is a form of child abuse, MSP must be reported to the authorities. Psychiatric counseling will probably be recommended.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
There are no side effects to treatment.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
No treatment has been shown to be effective. The person may continue to go to different hospitals to prevent suspicion.

How is the condition monitored?
A person with Munchausen syndrome is generally unwilling to undergo therapy.

 

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