What Is Munchausen Syndrome?

Munchausen Syndrome is a mental disorder in which a person fictitiously creates the belief that he or she is suffering from an illness, physical, or mental disorder. Individuals with this disorder create symptoms, act injured or sick, in order to be viewed as sick or injured. Some may self-injure and some may undergo painful or dangerous procedures looking for a "diagnosis."

Those with Munchausen Syndrome do not create these symptoms in order to acquire a financial gain, get out of work, or other practical reasons. Rather it is for the attention and sympathy the tests, procedures, or diagnoses generate. 

Munchausen Syndrome is a fictitious disorder, meaning that the individual makes up, pretends, or lies about being sick or injured. Munchausen Syndrome is viewed as the most severe of the fictitious disorders because of its potentially serious consequences.

What is the Difference Between Munchausen Syndrome and Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome?

Munchausen Syndrome involves a person creating symptoms of an illness through a variety of self-injurious behaviors. Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy, however, involves a disordered parent or guardian who intentionally causes pain, illness, and injury to someone in his or her care. Many who suffer at the hands of someone with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy will die or become permanently debilitated by the injuries inflicted upon them.

Read more about Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy here.

What Are The Symptoms Of Munchausen Syndrome?

Munchausen Syndrome is not always easy to diagnose. Because the individual creates symptoms, exaggerates symptoms, or lies about symptoms, it can be difficult to get to the underlying mental disorder. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Inconsistent medical history
  • Dramatic medical history
  • Frequent hospitalizations
  • Symptoms that change, become more severe, or are inconsistent with treatment
  • Extensive medical knowledge
  • New or additional symptoms following diagnostic testing with negative results
  • Symptoms that disappear when alone
  • Over-eagerness to be treated at multiple facilities
  • Identity and self-esteem issues

Often Munchausen Syndrome is diagnosed when a doctor is unable to find any physical reason that explains the alleged symptoms, but the individual insists that they do have the symptoms they claim. The doctor may refer him or her to a mental health professional who can diagnose Munchausen Syndrome, if appropriate. 

How The Lie Is Created:

Those suffering from Munchausen Syndrome are often reluctant to allow a health-care professional to speak to family or friends. This is because the information garnered often conflicts with the information presented.

A person with Munchausen Syndrome creates the illusion of illness or injury by the following, according to the Mayo Clinic:

Made up health history is a common tool used to create a false medical history, to support the symptoms experienced, such as claiming to have had cancer.

Faking symptoms such as abdominal pain, seizures, passing out, or other forms of unspecific pain.

Self-harm is one of the most dangerous methods of creating symptoms. The person will injure or make themselves sick (by injecting bacteria, milk, gasoline, feces, and other biological products into their body). They may burn, cut, or otherwise hurt themselves to induce wounds or blood in the urine. Finally, they may take medications that induce symptoms, such as chemotherapy medication.

Preventing healing by re-opening, picking at, or otherwise inhibiting the healing of cuts and wounds.

Tampering with equipment such as thermometers or medical instruments, contaminating urine samples with blood or other substances to throw a test.

Risk Factors For Munchausen Syndrome:

One of the biggest risks with Munchausen Syndrome is the possibility that the person may injure him- or herself in order to cause symptoms. It is possible to cause internal bleeding, associated health problems, and risks associated with specific procedures and tests.

Additionally, those who suffer from Munchausen Syndrome are statistically more prone to substance abuse and suicide attempts.

Other historical risk factors include:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Close relation or personal history of serious illness
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Personality disorders
  • Poor sense of self or self-esteem

How Is Munchausen Syndrome Treated?

Typically the recovery for Munchausen Syndrome is less than optimistic because it is easier and easier for someone to seek treatment from multiple professionals. Further, medical records may be unclear or inconsistent, resulting in more tests. 

That said, behavioral therapy is often the most successful treatment model because the therapy focuses on changing behaviors (i.e. seeking medical treatment), and modifies thinking (removing the negative thoughts that lead to the urge).

Medication may be used to assist in the treatment of related disorders, such as depression or anxiety; however, there currently is no medication treatment for any type of fictitious disorder. Further, Munchhausen Syndrome is a long-term disorder. Because there is no known cause of Munchhausen Syndrome, there are no preventative tools currently available.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Read more about Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy

Read more about Depression

Read more about Anxiety

Read more about Personality Disorders

Read more about Self-injury

Additional Munchausen Syndrome Resources:

Cleveland Clinic - Offers information about Munchausen Syndrome, including symptoms and risk factors.

Mayo Clinic - Offers information, symptoms, risk factors, and complication information about Munchausen Syndrome.

Discovery Fit & Health - Offers a historical look at Munchausen Syndrome.