Munchausen syndrome

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Munchausen syndrome

Question

What can you tell me about Munchausen syndrome?

No name given
England

Answer

Munchausen syndrome is a rare but serious condition in which a person tries to appear sick or injured in order to get attention. Doctors may also refer to this as factitious disorder. People with Munchausen syndrome may even cause actual injury or illness that requires medical attention. This is a poorly understood disorder.

Munchausen syndrome shouldn't be confused with hypochondria. People with hypochondria really believe they're sick. People with Munchausen syndrome know they're not sick but try to make it appear as if they are.

Munchausen syndrome usually starts in early adulthood — often after a hospitalization for a medical condition or mental disorder. Rarely, a person may have a single episode of this disorder. In most cases, the behavior recurs off and on for decades.

Most people with Munchausen syndrome are very secretive about their condition. They often have real medical problems that are self-inflicted. For example, a person who doesn't have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) injects insulin to cause low blood sugar. People with this disorder often seek physical exams, hospitalization and medical tests, and even accept painful treatment, including surgery.

The disorder is difficult to diagnose. It often accompanies other psychiatric problems such as:

  • Chemical dependency
  • Depression
  • Long-standing coping difficulties
  • A tendency to express emotions as physical symptoms

Treatment is based on careful assessment of the person's medical and psychiatric symptoms. Any real medical problems are treated. It's important to search for the reasons behind the person's need to appear sick.

Last Updated: 04/05/2006
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