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 the treatment for Munchausen syndrome?

Because of the chronic nature of the condition and the tendency of sufferers to flee from care, the treatment of Munchausen syndrome can be a challenge. No one method is consistently effective in managing this illness. Confronting victims of Munchausen syndrome tends to be ineffective. In fact, people with this condition are more likely to prematurely end treatment in response to being confronted, only to resume seeking unnecessary tests, procedures, and other treatments from a new health-care provider. Therefore, maintaining a delicate balance between providing the sufferer of Munchausen syndrome with empathetic professional support with preventing their receiving more unnecessary tests and procedures is key to treating victims of this condition. For example, showing empathy for the difficulties that may have contributed to the development of the disorder, while encouraging the sufferer to develop new ways of managing their feelings are important aspects of addressing Munchausen syndrome. In addition to trying to foster a supportive relationship with the individual with this illness, many health-care professionals will remain in close contact with the family of the sufferer in order to educate loved ones about the victim's behaviors and need for attention. The professional may also greatly contribute to the person's recovery by maintaining frequent communication with other health-care practitioners to educating those providers about this condition and preventing continued performance of unnecessary tests and procedures.

Treating Munchausen syndrome by proxy includes the involvement of child protective services to ensure the safety and well-being of the person, usually a child, in whom symptoms are being fabricated or induced, usually by a caretaker.

What is the prognosis for Munchausen syndrome?

Munchausen syndrome can have significantly negative effects on the lives of those who suffer from it and on the community in general. This disorder is thought to result in about $40 million per year in unnecessary tests and other medical costs. The chronic nature and tendency for people with this illness to be at odds with the medical community puts sufferers at risk for multiple recurrences of symptoms. The associated high completed suicides at a rate of 30%-70% is another potential complication of this condition, and males tend to have worse outcomes than females. The outcomes for Munchausen syndrome by proxy tends to be quite poor if the victim of the abuse remains in the care of the perpetrator.

People with Munchausen syndrome who have no other psychiatric illness seem to have a better chance of full recovery than those who also suffer from another mental illness. However, when a person with another psychiatric disorder gets treatment for that problem, their symptoms of Munchausen syndrome often improve as well.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/14/2015
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