Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (cont.)

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What is Munchausen syndrome by proxy?

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Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) features a caretaker covertly abusing a child by faking or causing symptoms in the child victim. MSBP is also called Munchausen by proxy (MBP), factitious disorder by proxy, induced illness, or fabricated illness and is a mental disorder that belongs to the group of mental illnesses called factitious disorders. Like other factitious disorders, it is characterized by a feigning or intentional production of physical or mental-health symptoms for the sole purpose of assuming the sick role. While the reported frequency with which it occurs seems low at one to three in 100,000, it is likely that the actual number of undiscovered MSBP cases is much higher. MSBP tends to affect males as often as females. Affected individuals are usually 4 years old or younger and mothers are the perpetrators most of the time. The tendency toward maternal perpetrators may be more a result of women continuing to be the primary caregiver than any gender-based predisposition to the disorder. 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.

This disorder was named for Baron Karl Friedrich von Munchausen. Baron von Muchausen lived from 1720 to 1797, was born in Germany, joined the Russian military and was known to tell fantastic tales about the battles he participated in against the Ottoman Turks. For example, he apparently told stories about riding cannonballs and traveling to the moon. As opposed to MSBP, factitious disorder is a mental illness in which what are initially thought to be symptoms of illness in the sufferer are in reality a fabrication of the illness by the sufferer rather than fabrication of illness by a third person. The motivation for factitious disorder also tends to be an attempt by the sufferer to be seen as sick (assuming the sick or patient role). Emotional problems that tend to co-occur in people with MSBP include depression, anxiety, and some personality disorders like borderline personality disorder and sociopathy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/17/2014

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