This article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please reach out to a qualified mental health professional if you are struggling.
People fake illnesses on many occasions. Perhaps it is to get out of work for a day, or as an excuse to stay home from an event; these are typically small scale events and often are low effort attempts to get out of doing an activity. But what happens when faking an illness becomes a much more severe problem? One that lasts for years and takes a lot of effort to keep up the facade? In this article, we will be exploring the rare mental health condition, Munchausen syndrome.
What Is Munchausen Syndrome?
Munchausen syndrome, which is commonly referred to as a factitious disorder, is a mental health disorder characterized by a person going to great lengths to appear sick (Cleveland Clinic 2020). People with the disorder can be so convincing in their portrayal, that they can trick family and medical professionals into thinking that they are truly ill. This can escalate to a point where medical professionals will attempt treatment on a person, whether it’s unnecessarily prescribing medication or performing surgery (NHS 2021). This disorder can create distance between people that the patient is close to and can put them at risk for serious harm either from purposely making themselves sick or going through a risky treatment (WebMD 2003).
People with this disorder will go to great lengths to make themselves appear sick. They may tamper with tests to make it look like they have an illness (WebMD 2003). They may also purposely give themselves food poisoning and infections to keep the image going (Cleveland Clinic 2020). Other symptoms include:
- Having a detailed knowledge of medical lexicon
- Having a large medical record with unrelated conditions and patterns of relapsing
- Numerous doctor visits
- Self-harming behaviors
- Exaggerates symptoms even after starting treatment
- Manipulative behaviors
(Sources: BetterHealth Channel 2020, Cleveland Clinic 2020)
The most common cause given for Munchausen Syndrome is related to trauma, especially in childhood (WebMD 2003). People with the disorder may enjoy the attention that comes along with the care that they receive. Similarly, there is a high rate of personality disorders that are present alongside the disorder (WebMD 2003).
Another form of this disorder is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. This is extremely similar, however rather than being self imposed, it is imposed on others (MedLine Plus 2021). Someone, usually a parent, will go to great lengths to make someone appear ill. In this case, the person with the disorder is the person that is imposing fake illnesses on others. The person may also have the self-imposed form of Munchausen Syndrome themself (MedLine Plus 2021). In popular culture, the case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard is one example of this condition.
The most common form of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There is no known cure for the condition, but through therapy, the patient may be able to work through their thought pattern (Cleveland Clinic 2020). In many cases, they will need to change their medical team in order to reestablish trust. While there is not a direct cure, people can learn to manage their symptoms in a healthier manner (Cleveland Clinic 2020).
While pretending to be sick can be helpful to get out of a situation, there comes a point where it can become dangerous to the individual. Potentially having a high risk surgery for a condition that is faked is extremely dangerous and can lead to dire consequences. While this is an unusual condition, it does happen and should be treated by the appropriate mental health professionals. Let us know what your thoughts on this topic are! Have you heard of this disorder before? What have you learned? Let us know in the comments!
- BetterHealth Channel. (2020, May 21). Munchausen syndrome – Better Health Channel. BetterHealth. www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/munchausen-syndrome
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020, November 23). Munchausen syndrome: Symptoms, Treatment & Definition. my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9833-munchausen-syndrome-factitious-disorder-imposed-on-self
- MedlinePlus. (2021, September 1). Munchausen syndrome by proxy. U.S. National Library of Medicine. medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001555.htm
- NHS website. (2021, February 25). Overview – Munchausen’s syndrome. Nhs.Uk. www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/munchausens-syndrome/overview/
- WebMD. (2003, February 10). Munchausen Syndrome. www.webmd.com/mental-health/munchausen-syndrome