Munchausen syndrome is a rare mental disorder in which the affected person would pretend to have multiple physical and psychological problems. At present, this syndrome is known as factitious disorder. People with some form of psychotic illness and people in the age group of 20-40 years and those having little knowledge in medical field are likely to develop this disorder. This disorder is known to occur from ancient times and was named after Baron Friedrich von Munchausen, a military man who lived in 18th century.
There is no known cause for this syndrome and people who are psychologically affected in one way or the other are likely to develop this disorder. It is difficult to treat Munchausen syndrome and through combined approach can be managed to some extent. The disorder can be prevented with regular monitoring of the people who are at high risk of developing this syndrome and treating them early. This syndrome is characterized with severe form of emotional problems.
The idea of the person with Munchausen syndrome is to get the attention of others by appearing sick or imposing self injury. The symptoms may range from mild to severe and the affected person may go to the extent of tampering the diagnosis to convince the medical experts.
An individual with Munchausen syndrome would harm his/her body in several ways to grab the attention of others. They might go to the extent of faking symptoms and hurt themselves to bleeding to convince others. They would try to tamper the tests to get the desired results. It becomes difficult for doctors to diagnose that these symptoms are due to mental disorder and not any other physical illness.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy shortly called as MSBP is a disorder in which someone would harm another individual for getting medical attention. For instance parent can harm his/her own child. Some of the symptoms of Munchausen syndrome are frequent visits to the hospital, showing or telling convincing health problems, vague symptoms, and health problems that gets worse or not respond to standard therapies and treatment. The person would show eagerness to undergo any sort of testing procedures just for the sake of proving himself/herself. The individual would gather in-depth information about his disease or illness to come up with the right answer anytime.
They would not stick on to one doctor and would frequently change doctors as well as clinics. They would not let medical experts to talk with their family or friends and would be problematic patient to the staff of the hospital. They would exaggerate symptoms, make up histories, fake symptoms and tamper with medical records. Many times they go to the extent of injecting harmful bacteria or even feces or burn themselves or take potentially dangerous drugs to get the desired response from others. It would be challenging for the doctors to determine whether they are faking or really have physical issues. They make all these attempts due to compulsive behavior in their mind that tempts them to try all possible efforts to fake any disorder.
Munchausen syndrome is believed to occur due to multiple factors like psychological and environmental factors. Exact cause of this disorder is not known. Individuals who are abused physically or sexually are prone to develop this disorder. People with personality disorder or psychosis are likely to develop this syndrome in future.
Factors like low self esteem, abusive childhood, unfulfilled desire in medical field and various personality disorders increase the risk of Munchausen syndrome. However this is a rare disorder and the exact statistics of its occurrence is difficult to get because people with this syndrome would use fake names or change hospitals. This disorder can cause significant problems in family and at workplace.
It is really challenging for the medical professional to diagnose people with Munchausen syndrome since the symptoms mostly mimic real disease or illness. The doctor would use various testing procedure to confirm that no physical reason is present. He would then refer the patient to a psychiatrist to evaluate mental illness. She would use different tools like questionnaire and assessment history to find out any personality disorder is there. She would also check from the family of the patient to confirm whether the information shared by him/her is true.
Psychologist would verify whether the individual’s medical history makes sense or not. According to the DSM of mental disorders the person to be diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome should have at least some of the below mentioned signs:-
- The individual is making deliberate attempts to deceive the doctor and fake up symptoms
- Individual is pretending to be ill or saying physical problems that does not exist
- Even if he/she is not getting any benefit from the faking symptoms, they would continue to pretend.
- The person’s behavior is not due to mental disorder like delusion or hallucination.
Treating a person with Munchausen syndrome is very difficult because he/she will not accept that the problem is due to psychological origin. No standard therapies are available for treating this disorder. Often they will end up changing the doctor or clinic to build new stories at another place. The foremost goal of the caretaker is to see that the patient is not harming herself/himself anymore. It would be helpful if the psychologist can make them understand about the problem and educate them.
Behavior therapy is effective in changing the person’s behavior and the entire family should be keen in preventing the person to use any form of medical resources to aggravate the symptoms. Family members can be counseled and educated that they should not reward the (unwanted) behavior of the patient. No particular medication is available to treat Munchausen syndrome and only expert psychiatrist can handle the case effectively. Outlook and recovery of the person is difficult if he/she is not co-operating with the psychologist in changing the behavior. Often, the conditions can only be managed but not treated in this disorder.
Supportive Care :
In case your loved ones are affected with this syndrome, you must ensure that they stick on to the treatment plan and not changing doctors or clinics often. They should be educated about the risk of self injury and the intensity of pain and emotions that one has to undergo due to surgical and other procedures. They should be motivated to engage in open conversation and join a support group to find solace.