Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP)

  • 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.

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 is also called Munchausen by proxy (MBP), factitious disorder that is imposed by one individual on another, induced illness, or fabricated illness and is a mental disorder that belongs to the group of mental illnesses called somatic symptom and related disorders. It is characterized by a feigning or intentional production of physical or mental-health symptoms in another person for the sole purpose of placing the other person in 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 victims 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 Munchausen lived from 1720-1797, 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 imposed on another person), factitious disorder imposed on self 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 imposed on self 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 5/15/2015
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