Munchausen is a syndrome where a person accurately fakes or exaggerates disease, illness, injury or psychological trauma in order to gain sympathy, comfort and attention from medical professionals, friends and family. In psychological terms it is a factitious disorder with predominantly physical signs and symptoms. A patient may .hospital hop,. or find ways to be admitted over and over to the same facility, even preferring specific medical staff.
Munchausen Syndrome is most common in young to middle aged men but women can be affected as well. Being cared for becomes a familiar and comforting role and temporarily fills psychological needs for the patient. During times of particular stress once quieted symptoms may arise again and the patient may find that .escaping. life.s responsibilities by becoming infantlike in a caretaking environment is preferable. Those who have worked in the medical field are more susceptible than those who have not.
There are no formal statistics regarding the number of people in the United States with Munchausen Syndrome. This is due to the deceptive qualities of the person with the syndrome. Most are never accurately diagnosed.
Munchausen is different from hypochondria but has some similarities. Unlike Hypochondria, people with Munchausen Syndrome realize that they are not truly sick. Instead they research and mimic symptoms of illness and disease in order to fake them convincingly.
Munchausen by Proxy is different than Munchausen Syndrome in that the individual seeks attention by inflicting injury, illness or psychological disorders on another, typically a child or the elderly. Often parents will poison a child or inject them with urine or bacteria causing them to become ill and in need of hospitalization. The parent then appears to be a loving attentive parent to their ill child. The parent.s psychological needs are met by the kind words and attention they get from others.
Profile of Munchausen SyndromeBackground includes but is not limited to:
- Childhood trauma
- Childhood neglect or abuse
- Childhood illness
- Prolonged or chronic illness of a parent
- Low self esteem
- Borderline Personality Disorder or other Personality disorder
- Increased need for control
- Feels like they have failed aspirations in medical field
- Addicted to attention
- Conflicts with Medical professionals
- Anger towards others
- Hospital or doctor shopping
- Self harming behaviors
- Fakes or exaggerates illness
- Become chronic patients
- Defines their social life according to interactions with caregivers ie. talks a lot about their relationship with their doctor.
- Alters test results
- Uses Aliases
- frequents internet chat rooms for disease and medical support themes
- Studies the medical field medical terminology and other patients to learn symptoms
- Mimics and reports symptoms that result in costly treatments or hospital stays
- Ingested or injected themselves with harmful substances
- Disrupts or sabotages healing process ie. reopening or contaminating wounds
- Many scars due to procedures
- History of improbable or grandiose stories of personal experiences.
Doctors often shun patients with Munchausen even though their self inflicted illness is still in need of treatment. It is difficult for most doctors to face the fact that they have been outwitted by someone who has far less medical training and education as themselves. Treating a patient who succeeds in pulling the wool over the doctors eyes forces the doctor to realise they are not infallible.
Patients on the other hand often have an intense need to feel in control of their own play in which they are the star. They learn how to read a doctor and determine how to cause that doctor to believe their symptoms. The euphoria they feel in duping a highly educated person feeds their need to continue the deception. They both create and get caught up in a cycle of deceit. The euphoria is short lived and the patient becomes increasingly anxious until they plan and induce their next illness.
Munchausen Syndrome is a complex and difficult disorder to treat as the patient often does not want help. The patient cannot imagine another way to get the attention they crave and therefore do not understand that psychotherapy would be helpful.
Once the patient agrees to therapy it is important that the therapist focus on the underlying causes for the Munchausen rather than on the chaotic and irrational symptoms. Treatment needs to help the patient to begin to understand their self worth, their ability to get their needs met in healthy ways and to help them deal with the issues that have contributed to developing the disorder.