Munchausen Syndrome - Diagnosis

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How is Munchausen syndrome diagnosed?

As occurs with some psychiatric diagnoses, there is ongoing debate about how to best understand and diagnose Munchausen syndrome. The diagnosis as indicated by the widely accepted criteria set by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) requires that the sufferer exhibit the following:

  • Purposeful production or pretending to have physical or mental health signs or symptoms
  • Being able to assume the role of a sick person is the motivation for the behavior
  • Other motivators for the behavior (for example, financial gain, avoiding legal consequences, or improving physical well-being) are not present.

There are three types of Munchausen syndrome: primarily mental health signs and symptoms, primarily physical signs and symptoms, and a combination of physical and mental health signs and symptoms.

There is no specific definitive test, like a blood test, that can accurately assess that a person has Munchausen syndrome. Therefore, practitioners conduct a mental health interview that looks for the presence of the symptoms previously described. As with any mental health assessment, the professional will usually work toward ruling out other mental disorders and ensuring that the individual is not suffering from a primary medical problem or from medical issues that may cause emotional symptoms. He or she will often inquire about when the person has most recently had a physical examination, comprehensive blood work, and any other tests that a medical professional deems necessary to ensure that the individual is not suffering from a true medical condition instead of or in addition to potentially feigning or manufacturing symptoms. Also of significant importance is the practitioner reviewing any available previous medical records and talking to other people who may be in the person's life (for example, current or previous treating professionals, the spouse, or other family members) in order to explore the possibility that there is a pattern of the individual making up or inducing illness in previous instances.

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