Munchausen Syndrome - Causes or Risks

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What causes Munchausen syndrome?

Although there is no specific cause for Munchausen syndrome, like most other mental disorders, it is understood to be the result of a combination of biological vulnerabilities, ways of thinking, and social stressors. Little is known about the specific biological risk factors from which individuals with Munchausen syndrome are more likely to suffer. Psychologically, sufferers of this mental illness may have an increased need for control, an imbalance in the level of self-esteem (either low or excessively high), and a tendency to suffer from depression, anxiety, or substance-abuse disorders. Personality traits of individuals who have a history of feigning or inducing symptoms in themselves include some that are in common with borderline personality disorder (for example, if the person dissociates or has another disturbance in their identity/sense of self; has unstable relationships, recurrent instances of self-mutilation, and/or experiences recurrent thoughts or attempts at suicide) or antisocial personality disorder (for example, a tendency to lie, disregard the safety of themselves or others, and to have little empathy for others).

Risk factors for people with Munchausen syndrome include:

  • enduring a significant negative event (trauma) during their childhood (such as a serious illness of themselves,
  • a close family member or friend), having a grudge against the medical profession or having been themselves the victim of neglect,
  • physical or sexual abuse, or other forms of childhood maltreatment.
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See what others are saying

Comment from: Marcie, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: March 07

I have been trying for years to understand my sister's problem, Munchausen syndrome. If someone in the family is sick, she is sick. She has an alcohol addiction and of course will not admit. She at one time was going from doctor to doctor and getting prescription pain relievers for everything under the sun. She made a mistake by going to my doctor. I informed him of what she was up to and gave him the names of the other doctors she was seeing. Her mother died of COPD. So now she claims constant colds sore throat, etc. She can be talking to me on the phone and be laughing, the next second having a crying jag. She will tell me she loves me at least 6 times before we hang up. I had a heart attack last spring. Soon after my other sister had to have a pacemaker. Now this sister is having the same symptoms. This has been going on with her since she was a very small child. I am 15 years older than her and it did not start until I left home at age 16. I was her mom. My stepmother never gave to the two youngest, the attention I thought that a mom should. I have tried for years to get her to seek a psychiatrist but she won"t.

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Comment from: Blenhart, 25-34 Female (Caregiver) Published: June 10

I was sympathetic to my daughter's illnesses till I realized most of the problems she had since age 9, she is now 34, were those without definite diagnoses. Physiological nerve disorders, supposed eating disorders, soft tissue injuries, seizures that could be easily feigned, treatment of drug use with no proof of drugs in her system. We are estranged at present after I told her she needed psychiatric help. Of course the fault is mine and her mother's. Her Munchausen syndrome problems started when her younger brother, whom she tried to smother with a pillow, was born. Her physician caught on and had her admitted to a treatment facility. She signed herself out AMA (against medical advice) after 9 hours.

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