Munchausen Syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What Is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) features a caretaker covertly abusing a child by faking or causing symptoms in the child victim.

MSBP can take two years or more from the beginning or onset of symptoms to when it is diagnosed. Victims of MSBP are ominously found to have a sibling who is either deceased or to have had medical problems very similar to the current victim of the disorder.

Munchausen syndrome facts

  • Munchausen syndrome, referred to as factitious disorder, is a mental illness that involves the sufferers causing or pretending to have physical or psychological symptoms in themselves.
  • Adults aged 20-40 years are most likely to develop Munchausen syndrome. Women with knowledge of health care and men with few family relationships are particularly vulnerable to developing this disorder.
  • Munchausen syndrome often follows or coexists with Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
  • Munchausen syndrome tends to occur in a small portion of the United States population, more often in subpopulations like people who have been diagnosed with psychosis or fever of unknown origin.
  • The symptoms of Munchausen syndrome has been described since at least biblical times. It was named for Baron Karl Friedrich von Munchausen, an 18th-century man who was in the Russian military and was known to tell untrue stories about the battles he participated in.
  • Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a fabrication of illness by a third person that allows the third person, usually the victim's mother, to assume the role of caregiver.
  • Although there is no specific cause for Munchausen syndrome, risk factors for the disorder tend to be psychological, like having borderline or antisocial personality symptoms or a grudge against the medical profession and social, like having a personal or family history of serious illness or a history of neglect, abuse, or other maltreatment.
  • Due to the chronic nature of the condition, as well as the tendency of sufferers to discontinue treatment, care for individuals with Munchausen syndrome is difficult. No single approach is consistently effective in managing this illness.
  • Prevention or early treatment of the factors that put people at risk for developing Munchausen syndrome are important aspects of decreasing the likelihood that the disorder will develop. Once symptoms of the condition are assessed, the earlier it is addressed, the better the likely outcome.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/14/2015

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