Munchausen syndrome is a mental illness in which a person exaggerates or makes up an illness or injury. Munchausen syndrome belongs to a group of mental illnesses called “factitious disorders,” in which patients compulsively simulate a physical or mental illness. This condition can be treated. Contact a doctor if you think you or someone you know may have Munchausen syndrome.
A related condition is known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy. This almost always involves a parent abusing her child by seeking unneeded medical attention for the child.
A similar condition to Munchausen syndrome is called
. Health experts have been able to differentiate Munchausen syndrome from cases of malingering, which often occur in a work environment. Those who suffer from Munchausen syndrome are most often seeking comfort and solace for their (imagined) sickness, while malingerers most often want tangible rewards at work (eg, paid sick leave or worker’s compensation).
Receiving Medical Treatment
People with Munchausen syndrome tend to seek unnecessary treatment for comfort and solace.
If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, do not assume Munchausen syndrome is the cause. These symptoms may be due to other health conditions. If you or someone you know experiences any one of them, tell your doctor:
Dramatic, inconsistent medical history
Unclear and uncontrollable symptoms
Relapses following improvement of condition
Extensive knowledge of hospitals and medical terminology
Multiple surgical scars
Appearance of new symptoms after negative test results
History of treatment at numerous hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices
Attempts to avoid communication between previous and current doctors, and between doctors and family members
Symptoms that appear only when patient is alone or unobserved
Insistence on and even enthusiasm about medical tests or procedures
Self-inflicted or simulated signs and symptoms of disease
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Depending on your symptoms, he will perform various diagnostic tests and procedures.
If your doctor rules out any possible illness, he may then refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist, who will determine if you have Munchausen syndrome based on the exclusion of actual physical or (other) mental illness and an assessment of your attitude and behavior.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Munchausen’s syndrome is very difficult to treat successfully. Patients often simply leave the care of doctor who attempt to diagnose or treat the disorder, and seek treatment for their simulated illness from some other unknowing source.
Treatment options include the following:
Psychotherapy—Counseling sessions will focus on changing the patient's thinking and behavior to reduce your misuse or overuse of medical resources.
Family counseling—The psychiatrist or psychologist will counsel the patient or the patient’s family in learning how to avoid rewarding or reinforcing the behavior.
Legal interventions—In some cases, legal interventions are required in an attempt to prevent a patient with Munchausen’s syndrome from getting medical services and/or medications.
There is no known way to prevent Munchausen syndrome.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a