Understanding Munchausen Syndrome

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Understanding Munchausen Syndrome

The Munchausen syndrome is reported to be the cause of about $40 million in unnecessary tests and other medical costs annually, and puts sufferers at risk for multiple recurrences of symptoms / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF

 

In 2015, a famous healthy lifestyle blogger from Australia claimed that she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and multiple cancer cells throughout her internal organs. She also claimed that she managed her illnesses effectively through diet, exercise, and alternative therapies. She even wrote a book about it and collected charity money. But, it was all a lie. 

This true-to-life story is an example of a rare, mental condition called the Munchausen syndrome, a factitious disorder in which a person deliberately and repeatedly acts as if they have a physical or mental illness when they really don’t. As of now, there are no clear statistics of how prevalent the sickness is, as obtaining accurate information about the disorder has been challenging because dishonesty is common with this illness.

According to an article by MedicineNet, an online, healthcare media publishing company that provides easy-to-read, in-depth, and authoritative medical information for consumers, it can have significant negative impacts on the lives of those who suffer from it. 

The Munchausen syndrome is reported to be the cause of about $40 million in unnecessary tests and other medical costs annually, and puts sufferers at risk for multiple recurrences of symptoms. It can result in suicides at a rate of 30 percent to 70 percent. It was also reported that men tend to have worse outcomes than females.

Additionally, there has been a lot of misleading statistics on Munchausen syndrome because people who suffer from it tend to seek treatment at many different healthcare facilities. Medical professionals are also having a difficult time to diagnose the illness since dishonesty is always involved. They should first rule out any possible physical and mental conditions before a person is diagnosed with the syndrome. If the pattern of their symptoms is self-inflicted, they are more likely to be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist. There are interview and assessment tools designed to evaluate a person who may be suffering from Munchausen syndrome. 

Causes and Symptoms

People who suffer from Munchausen syndrome mainly need one thing: attention. Unfortunately, the exact cause/s of this mental illness is not yet known. However, researchers believe that it involves biological and psychological factors. Some theories suggest that a history of frequent illnesses that required hospitalization or a history of abuse or neglect as a child might be one of the warning signs in the development of the syndrome. Up until now, Munchausen syndrome remains to be a complex and poorly misunderstood condition. 

According to an article by Verywell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides the guidance you need to improve your mental health and find balance, there are several reasons why people with Munchausen syndrome pretend to have an illness. This includes needing to feel important and be the center of attention, needing to punish themselves by making themselves sick, needing to pass responsibility for their welfare and care to other people, and more.

People who suffer from Munchausen syndrome are willing to go through extreme measures to gain attention and sympathy, like undergoing painful or risky tests or operations. Pretending to be sick allows them to get into a situation where they can elicit support and acceptance from others. Most of the time, they deliberately produce and exaggerate symptoms in several ways. For instance, they would hurt themselves to bring on symptoms, lie about or fake it, or alter tests. 

There are several warning signs of Munchausen syndrome, such as having dramatic but inconsistent medical history; unclear symptoms that are not controllable; willingness or eagerness to have medical tests, operations, or other procedures; problems with identity and self-esteem; history of seeking treatment at several places and healthcare facilities; presence of multiple surgical scars; appearance of new or additional symptoms following negative test results, and many more. 

People who suffer from Munchausen syndrome are willing to go through extreme measures to gain attention and sympathy, like undergoing painful or risky tests or operations / Photo by: Dmitrii Shironosov via 123RF

 

Can Munchausen Syndrome Be Prevented?

According to an article by WebMD, an American corporation known primarily as an online publisher of news and information pertaining to human health and well-being, there is no known way to prevent the illness. Since researchers believe that it is a result of biological and psychological factors, preventing and detecting child abuse, as well as educating parents and other family members of the importance of seeing their needs for attention, may significantly help prevent Munchausen syndrome from occurring. The earlier the signs of the illness are detected, the earlier they can be addressed.

Treatment of Munchausen Syndrome

Unfortunately, there are a lot of risk factors that people with Munchausen syndrome can experience. According to an article by BetterHealth, a website that provides health and medical information to improve the health and wellbeing of people and the communities they live in, this includes self-esteem or identity problems, difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, relationship problems, ability to lie and manipulate, and others. 

Treating people with Munchausen syndrome is extremely challenging because although people afflicted with this condition actively seek treatment for different illnesses they think they have, they are more likely unwilling to admit and seek treatment for the syndrome itself. The first thing that medical professionals do is to modify the person's behavior and reduce their misuse or overuse of medical resources. If they succeeded, they will also work out any underlying psychological issues that may be causing the person's behavior. Helping them to avoid unnecessary and dangerous medical diagnostic or treatment procedures would also help in the treatment.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of risk factors that people with Munchausen syndrome can experience / Photo by: Dmitrii Shironosov via 123RF

 

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