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 malingering . 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

Man gurney physician
People with Munchausen syndrome tend to seek unnecessary treatment for comfort and solace.
© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


Some causes of Munchausen syndrome include:

  • Psychological, compulsive drive to be treated as an ill patient
  • Severe emotional difficulties

Risk Factors

The following factors increase your chances of developing Munchausen syndrome. If you or someone you know has any of these risk factors, tell a doctor:


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.