Munchausen Syndrome: When Faking an Illness Becomes an Illness

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Munchausen Syndrome: When Faking an Illness Becomes an Illness

Faking a disease or illness to draw attention or sympathy to themselves is called Munchausen Syndrome / Photo by Felipe Caparros via 123RF


Munchausen Syndrome or Factitious Disorder Imposed on Self is defined by Osmosis as a mental disorder where an individual  fakes a “disease, illness or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy or reassurance to themselves.” It is named after Baron von Munchausen, a German officer in the 18th century who was known for exaggerating tales of his experiences.

The person who is affected by this disorder may purposefully make those symptoms appear or exaggerate them. In their desire to be seen as someone who has an illness, they may injure themselves to make themselves bleed or go through excruciating surgeries or medical exams. Oftentimes, the patients will pretend to have a fever, stomach problems, and chest pains and rarely complain about having a fake mental illness. Within hospitals of the United States, it is said that only one percent are affected by this condition, and that is more prevalent in young adults than in children.


As listed by WebMD, the symptoms that manifest when someone suffers from Munchausen Syndrome are:  

The person may have a medical record that is with dramatic symptoms but they often do not match. They may also acquire vague symptoms that cannot be managed but when they start their treatment, their symptoms either become worse or alter. When they feel that their condition is beginning to get better, their symptoms regress. When they have negative results for their medical examinations, they may have more or new symptoms. They may force symptoms to appear by tainting their blood with urine, injecting themselves with feces or tightly tying rubber bands around their arms and legs. Their symptoms may only manifest when they are in the presence of others. Among the many diseases and health conditions they may fake are chronic diarrhea, cancer, skin disorders, infections, bleeding disorders, cardiac disease, and metabolic disorders.

Patients who suffer from this syndrome may be knowledgeable about medical jargon, textbook definitions of health conditions and hospitals. They also have records of being admitted or searching for medical assistance in various hospitals and clinics. They may also possibly look for treatments in other cities. They may be enthusiastic when they required to be subject to medical operations, tests, and other hospital processes. They may have several scars from going through many surgeries.

They may also feel hesitant in letting the doctor see their family members or previous doctors personally. Lastly, they also have problems with self-worth and identity.


According to the Cleveland Clinic, the specific cause of Munchausen Syndrome cannot be identified. However, experts suspect that it can be prompted by a combination of biological and psychological factors. They may have been abused or neglected in their childhood or may have been affected by various health conditions which made necessary for them to get admitted into hospitals. It may also be linked to different personality disorders.


The faking of a disease is done in an exaggerated way to the point of injuring themselves / Photo by Getty Images



Treating an individual with Munchausen Syndrome may prove to be difficult since they would rather seek medical help for the many illnesses they make up. Due to this, their chances of healing from the syndrome are very slim. Caretakers are advised to shield the person affected by the disorder from hurting themselves and teaching them about the negative effects that can happen. It is also suggested that only one physician will be handling the patient, or at most, two.

When they do actually decide to seek proper treatment, the therapist or clinician may aid them in lessening their visits to hospitals or using too much medicine. Additionally, the objective of the treatment may also include keeping them from getting involved in harmful and useless medical procedures which they usually request from doctors who do not know they are just faking their illness or that they produced those symptoms themselves. If they have successfully reformed the patient’s behavior, they may move to identify the patient’s psychological and social needs that were the initial causes of their actions.

Psychotherapy is highly recommended. An example of psychotherapy they may go through is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). They may also undergo Family Therapy in order to train family members not to encourage the patient’s behavior. Another therapy that may help them recover is Group Therapy, which can aid in making them feel less isolated or uncared for.

There are no medications made particularly for Munchausen Syndrome, but patients may take medicine used to address depression and anxiety. Doctors must be careful to keep track of their use of medicines because the patients may use the drugs recklessly. They may also get their medicines from other sources than pharmacies.

If left untreated, they may get real health conditions or die from self-inflicted symptoms. There is a high probability that they will develop health problems from going through numerous treatments, procedures, and exams. They can also be prone to making suicide or substance abuse.




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