Munchausen’s Syndrome (A guide)

In this guide, we are going to comprehensively overview the potential contributing factors of Munchausen’s syndrome, symptoms, treatment options, and self-help techniques.

WHAT IS MUNCHAUSEN’S SYNDROME?

Munchausen’s syndrome is commonly known as factitious disorder imposed on self.

Munchausen’s syndrome is a mental disorder in which the patient deliberately acts as if that patient has a mental or physical illness.

In such cases, the patient is not sick.

This syndrome is included in mental illnesses as it can be commonly associated with extremely severe emotional difficulties.  

Munchausen’s syndrome named after Baron von Munchausen, who was a German officer in the 18th century, known for embellishing stories of experiences in his life.

It is associated and stated as one of the most severe types of factitious disorder.

Most of the symptoms relating to Munchausen’s syndrome are physical symptoms such as stomach problems, chest pains, fever.

It is very rare to see patients experience symptoms of mental illnesses even though 

Munchausen’s is a mental illness. People with Munchausen’s syndrome do not act like they are ill to have any gain, such as financial gain and are even willing to undergo painful and risky tests, surgeries, and treatments.

This behaviour is to gain the sympathy and special attention given to people who are truly Ill. 

You should be aware of How to spot and help people who fake mental illness, in case you encounter one in life.

Some patients suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome secretly injure themselves of injecting themselves with toxins, causing symptoms like blood in urine, cyanosis, faking seizures and breaking bones.

The common ground for all patients who suffer from Munchausen’s is attention-seeking behaviour and a deep-seated need for attention or to fake illness or injury. 

MUNCHAUSEN’S SYNDROME BY PROXY

Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy means “Through a substitute.”

In Munchausen’s by proxy, the caretaker or mother of the child makes up fake symptoms or causes real ones to make it appear as if the child is ill or injured.

Even though Munchausen’s is a mental illness, it is also considered a form of child abuse due to such instances.

Many people with Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy lie about the child’s symptoms to get attention. 

Such symptoms are created by poisoning food, causing infections, withholding food from the child.

They may even have the child undergo painful and risky tests and procedures to try to gain sympathy from their family or from the community in which they are living.

It is also commonly believed that people who suffer from Munchausen’s by proxy like the feeling of deceiving people whom they think are more powerful than themselves, usually targeting the people who are the doctors that treat their child.  

Even though Munchausen’s by proxy shows its presence in women or men of all ages, it is, however, quite common among people who have children under the age of 8 years.

Their overwhelming need for attention can go to some great lengths to achieve it even if it means they are risking a child’s life.

According to Cleveland Clinic, approximately 1000 or 2.5 million cases that are reported every year under child abuse may be relating to Munchausen’s by proxy. 

Since the parent or caretaker appears to be caring and attentive, doctors do not usually suspect any wrongdoing with them.

Diagnosis can often be difficult due to this, and the person’s ability to manipulate doctors who treat the child is strengthened.

Due to this reason, Munchausen’s by proxy can go unnoticed for years. 

Doctors may begin to suspect a case of child abuse when the child starts to frequently experience illnesses, injured, and other unfortunate accidents. 

They can also become very suspicious if the child starts to get worse in terms of symptoms when home with the caretaker and improve when under medical professional’s care.

In such cases, the abuser faces criminal charges, and long term counselling is recommended.

HOW DO YOU GET MUNCHAUSEN’S SYNDROME?

The exact cause of Munchausen’s syndrome is unknown to researchers, but they are looking into biological and psychological factors.

Some theories suggest that people who have a history of being abused or neglected as a child in their early years may be likely to acquire Munchausen’s in older age.

History of frequent illnesses that required hospitalizations may also be a factor.

According to recent studies, personality disorders may also have a link to Munchausen’s. 

Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy also does not have a registered cause under its name, as there seems to be none.

Some people with Munchausen’s may have grown up in families that may have had someone sick and hospitalized, and the person had seen a great amount of care and love for people who seem to be sick or having near-death experiences.

Stress is also a very important factor in Munchausen’s by proxy, which could be due to a traumatic event in the past, a marital problem, difficulties conceiving a child or being childless, or perhaps a serious illness of some sort.

Symptoms

People who suffer from Munchausen’s deliberately produce and exaggerate their present symptoms in several ways.

They can lie about their illness and symptoms and fake them to get attention.

They can also alter tests such as contaminating their urine samples.

Possible warning signs can include:

  • Having a consistent and very dramatic medical history
  • Having very unclear symptoms are not controllable and starts to get much worse once the treatment has begun.
  • There are predictable relapses in the conditions once they start to improve
  • They have extensive knowledge about medical terminologies and know about the exact symptoms of diseases
  • They may have multiple surgical scars
  • New and worse symptoms may appear once they start getting negative medical results
  • They may be willing or eager to get several types of medical procedures done on them
  • They may have problems with identity and their self-esteem
  • They may be reluctant in letting the doctors meet their family and friends

Some characteristics of people suffering from Munchausen’s by proxy differ from people that have Munchausen’s themselves. The symptoms are:

  • They may be a caregiver or a parent
  • They may be a healthcare professional or a nurse
  • They seem to be very cooperative with doctors and seem very friendly
  • They may appear concerned and tensed about the condition of their child
  • They may themselves be suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome
  • The child may have a history of numerous hospitalizations often having a strange occurrence of symptoms in each one of them
  • There may be an occurrence of one or more than one unusual illnesses of deaths in the house
  • Blood sample in the lab may not match the blood of the patient
  • There may be  signs of unusual chemicals in the urine of the child

How is Munchausen’s Diagnosed?

Diagnosing Munchausen’s in people may be very difficult due to the dishonesty that tends to be involved in most cases.

Doctors need to rule out any possible physical and mental illnesses before a diagnosis of Munchausen can be considered for further treatment.

If the health care professional finds no reason for the symptoms that appear physically, or the pattern that the patient suggested may be self-inflicted, the health care professional suggests the patient to a psychiatrist or a psychologist who are mental health professionals specially trained to diagnose and treat such type of mental illnesses. 

Psychiatrists and psychologists design interviews and assessment tools to evaluate a person for Munchausen’s syndrome, and base their diagnosis on the absence of actual mental or physical illnesses and observations on the patient’s attitude and behaviour. 

People with Munchausen’s by proxy may be hard to diagnose or catch since they do not usually admit that they have inflicted those injuries, symptoms, or toxins upon the child that they are harming.

For a caretaker to be diagnosed, they need to admit to their abuse and are submitted to a hospital or a psychiatric treatment facility where they are treated.

People with Munchausen’s by proxy are prone to such kind of dishonesty, and diagnosing a condition may get extremely hard for health care professionals. 

Additionally, when there are severe cases of an injured or sick child, the doctors can be preoccupied with treating the child and overlook any possibility of the caretaker having Munchausen’s by proxy.

It is much likely that the doctor will first try to diagnose the child with a specific type of illness.

If the child is repeatedly presenting with such unexplained illnesses and injuries than the doctor starts to suspect the possibility of child abuse or Munchausen’s by proxy.

They may also become vigilant when symptoms stop or improve in the absence of the caretaker.

Their first duty is to report the caretaker’s actions and taker care of the child’s safety. (Kuhne, 2019)

What are the treatment options? 

Even though people suffering from Munchausen’s syndrome actively and repeatedly seek treatments for their self-inflicted symptoms or various disorders that they have invented, people are usually unwilling to seek treatments for their syndrome itself.

This can make treatment for people with Munchausen’s very challenging, and the outlook for recovery is usually very poor among them. 

If health care professionals can protect the patient from harming themselves and educate them about the possible consequences that can befall them due to their behaviour, it may be useful in terms of therapy and treatment.

When treatment is sought for them, the first goal is to be able to modify the person’s behaviour and be able to reduce the misuse or overuse of medical resources that they do.

Once this is achieved, the treatment aims to work out any underlying cause of psychological issues that can be causing the person’s behaviour or help them find solutions to some of their needs.

The primary treatment for factitious disorder on self can be psychotherapy, a kind of counselling.

Treatment will likely be focusing on changing the thinking and overall behaviour of the patient in general and also might be able to help in teaching family members about the situation.

There are no medicines to treat Munchausen.

Medicines may be used to treat any related disorder such as depression, anxiety, or any other personality disorder that may be related to it.

Some Useful resources:

  1. The Secret Life of Gypsies
  2. Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome: Misunderstood Child Abuse
  3. Munchausen Moms
  4. Do No Harm?: Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy
  5. Mama/M.A.M.A.

Conclusion:

These individuals are at risk for health issues and even death associated with hurting themselves or otherwise causing symptoms.

Also, they might suffer from reactions or health problems associated with multiple tests, procedures that they undergo and treatments that they follow up.

They are also at high risk for substance abuse and suicide attempts. (Moreno-Ariño, 2016)

They are at risk of health problems and are associated with attempts to hurting themselves.

They may be denying that they are faking their symptoms and do not usually follow up treatments, and recovery is dependent on health care professionals, and loved ones need to seek and follow treatment in proper facilities and institutions.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is Munchausen syndrome by proxy?

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is when a caretaker or a parent cause deliberate harm to a child and causes symptoms of a disease so that the child can have medical attention and care.

It is a form of child abuse.

Q2. How do you get Munchausen?

There is no physical cause for Munchausen’s, but health care professionals around the world believe that such psychological problems are caused by parental neglect and abuse in childhood in the form of trauma.

Q3. Is Munchausen syndrome a personality disorder? 

Munchausen’s is a fictitious mental disorder in which a person acts deliberately as if he or she is sick and causes harm to gain sympathy and attention.

Q4. Is Munchausen hereditary?

No, Munchausen’s syndrome is not hereditary, but it is caused as a result of childhood trauma, abuse, and parental neglect.

Q5. Is Munchausen curable?

Munchausen’s syndrome is widely treated by psychotherapy and counselling, but as other mental disorders, treatment can only proceed without medications. 

Q6. What is the difference between a hypochondriac and Munchausen?

Hypochondriac is a situation when one is worried that you could be sick, but Munchausen is a condition where one always wants to be ill. 

References

  1. Munchausen syndrome is a factitious disorder
  2. What is factitious disorder imposed on self
  3. What causes Munchausen’s syndrome?
  4. What is Munchausen syndrome by proxy?
  5. Common presentations of Munchausen syndrome

Was this post helpful?

[Sassy_Social_Share type="standard"]