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Munchausen Syndrome


Disease: Munchausen Syndrome Munchausen Syndrome
Category: Psychiatric diseases
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Disease Definition:

The serious mental disorder in which someone with a deep need for attention pretends to be sick or gets sick or injured on purpose is called Munchausen syndrome. In their effort to win sympathy and concern, people with Munchausen syndrome may try to rig laboratory test results, make up symptoms or push for risky operations.

A member of a group of conditions called factitious disorders, which are either made up or self-inflicted, is Munchausen syndrome. These factitious disorders can be physical or psychological. The most severe and chronic physical form of factitious disorder is Munchausen syndrome.  

Munchausen syndrome remains difficult to treat and mysterious, although it has been recognized for centuries. However, to prevent serious injury and even death that can result from the self-harm typical of Munchausen syndrome, medical help is critical.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Producing or faking injury or illness in order to meet deep emotional needs is what the signs and symptoms of this syndrome revolve around. It's difficult to notice that the symptoms of people with Munchausen syndrome are actually part of a serious mental disorder because those people go to great lengths to avoid discovery of their deception.

Although people with Munchausen syndrome aren't sick, they want to be. On the other hand, people with hypochondria truly believe they are sick. So Munchausen syndrome is not the same as hypochondria, and it is not the same as inventing medical problems for practical benefit, such as winning a lawsuit or getting out of work.

In order to win sympathy, someone makes another person ill in Munchausen syndrome by proxy. A parent harming a child is involved usually in Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

The following may be included in the symptoms of Munchausen syndrome:


  • Reluctance to allow health professionals to talk to family or friends
  • Conditions that get worse for no apparent reason
  • Eagerness to undergo frequent testing or risky operations
  • Having few visitors when hospitalized
  • Frequent hospitalizations
  • Vague or inconsistent symptoms
  • Frequent requests for pain relievers or other medications
  • Extensive knowledge of medical terminology and diseases
  • Dramatic stories about numerous medical problems
  • Seeking treatment from many different doctors or hospitals

It's sometimes hard for medical professionals and loved ones to know if illnesses are real or not, because people with Munchausen syndrome become experts at inflicting real injuries upon themselves or faking symptoms and diseases.
People with Munchausen syndrome use several ways to make up symptoms or cause illness:

Faking symptoms:
They might fake symptoms, such as passing out, abdominal pain or seizures.

To skew results, they may tamper with laboratory tests, such as contaminating their urine samples with blood or other substances. They may also manipulate medical instruments, such as heating up thermometers.

Make-up histories:
They might give health care providers, Internet support groups or even loved ones a false medical history, such as claiming to have had HIV or cancer.

Preventing healing:
They may interfere with wounds, such as reopening cuts.

By injecting themselves with gasoline, bacteria, feces or milk, they might cause self-injury or make themselves sick. To mimic diseases, they may take medications such as diabetes medications, blood thinners and chemotherapy medications. They may also cut or burn themselves.

People with Munchausen syndrome are unlikely to seek help and they are unable to control their compulsive behavior, though they may be well aware of the risk of injury or even death as a result of the self-harm they seek.

It may help to attempt a gentle conversation about one's concerns if a person thinks a loved one may be faking or exaggerating his/her health problems. Judgment, confrontation or anger should be avoided. Instead, the person should offer caring and support, and help in finding treatment if possible.


Many mental disorders develop from a complex mix of biology, genetics and life experiences. However, there is little evidence so far that genetics or biology plays a role in Munchausen syndrome. What causes someone to so strongly desire playing the sick role that they develop Munchausen syndrome is being studied.

The risk for someone to develop the condition is higher in the presence of several factors, although the cause of Munchausen syndrome is still not known, these factors are:


  • Personality disorders
  • Loss of a loved one through death, illness or abandonment early in life
  • Unfulfilled desire to be a doctor or other health professional
  • Childhood trauma, such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • A relative with a serious illness
  • Poor coping skills
  • A poor sense of identity or self-esteem
  • Work in the health care field
  • A serious illness during childhood that allowed them to be cared for and nurtured

How many people have Munchausen syndrome is not known, so the disorder is considered rare. It's difficult to make a reliable estimate as some people visit many different hospitals and doctors, some use fake names to avoid detection, and some are never found out.

Munchausen seems to be more common among young or middle-aged adults, and more males are diagnosed with this condition.



People with Munchausen syndrome face many possible complications because there are such emotional needs in them that they're willing to risk their lives to be seen as sick, and they usually have other mental disorders too. These complications are:


  • Loss of organs or limbs from unnecessary surgery
  • Financial problems
  • Injury or death from self-inflicted medical conditions
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Significant problems in daily life, relationships and work.
  • Severe health problems from surgery or other procedures
  • Increased risk of suicide


There are no standard therapies for Munchausen syndrome, and it's often difficult to treat this condition. People with Munchausen are often unwilling to seek treatment because they want to be in the sick role. However, a person with this condition may agree to be treated by a mental health provider if approached in a gentle, face-saving way.

Treatment often focuses on managing the condition, rather than trying to cure Munchausen syndrome, although there are no standard treatments for it. Behavior counseling and psychotherapy are generally included in the treatment. Family therapy may be suggested as well in case it is possible.

To treat other mental disorders that are present as well such as depression or anxiety, medications may be used. Temporary psychiatric hospitalization may be necessary in severe cases.


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