Munchausen syndrome (MS) is a mental disorder in which the affected individual repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. MS only affects the person who has it and does not spread from one person to another.
Symptoms of Munchausen syndrome
The symptoms of Munchausen syndrome include:
• Feigning illness by appearing in various hospitals for tests, treatment, drugs, and so on. This process usually follows certain patterns such as symptoms disappearing when other people are around because they know that these symptoms are fake
• Self-inflicting injury such as poisoning, overdosing on drugs, etc to convince others of their ‘illness’
• Appearing with an intense medical history only diagnosed through expensive tests which is usually the opposite
• To avoid suspicion, they may travel to different hospitals and doctors
Theories on causes of Munchausen syndrome
The exact cause of Munchausen syndrome is unknown; however, there are several theories. These include:
• Feeling very anxious and insecure about themselves leads them to feel that something is wrong with them physically or psychologically. As a result, they take on the symptoms and pretend that these symptoms affect them too
• They may be trying to gain attention from their family members and friends by behaving in this way. Many people who suffer from this condition often came from loveless families where affection was not shown or was abused in some form such as emotional abuse
• As children, they were neglected by their parents so as adults they continue to act out the role of being a victim. They are usually very lonely people who have problems with self-identity and self-esteem
• The person may have experienced an event during their childhood that gave them the feeling of being neglected, abandoned, or abused by important adults in their life
The treatment of Munchausen syndrome
Treatment of Munchausen syndrome is primarily a mental health issue. The person with the disorder requires specialized treatment that looks at both the physical and psychological aspects of the illness to ensure safety for self and others, as well as to prevent further injury, illness, or death. It has been suggested that psychiatrists should play an active role in working with these patients because they know what questions to ask about symptoms, how people can fake illnesses, and may be able to offer insight into why this behavior might be occurring. An effective treatment team includes members who are responsible for ensuring patient safety (e.g., medical staff), treating the fabricated illness (e.g., mental health professionals), and helping someone cope with an underlying psychiatric condition (i.e., psychiatric professionals).
In some cases when a person has been found out, they have been successfully treated for a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. There is also a possibility that remission of symptoms will occur with no further treatment. However, if the individual’s main motivation is to receive attention or nurturance from medical staff, then treatment can be complicated because it may not be in their best medical interest to remain in the hospital against their will. In these situations, one facility may try transferring the person to another facility where they are unknown and perhaps more compliant with receiving treatment. Treatment of Munchausen syndrome by proxy requires very different approaches according to what age group is affected and who the perpetrator is (i.e., parent, caretaker, or nurse).