What is Munchausen syndrome?
Munchausen syndrome is a disorder that occurs when someone acts like they have something physically or mentally wrong with them, but don’t really have that condition.1 Doctors also call it “factitious disorder.”
The syndrome got its name from a person in the 1700s named Baron von Munchausen. He told wild and unrealistic stories about his life and health that weren’t true.
People with Munchausen syndrome may say they have symptoms like chest pain, stomach problems, or even cancer, yet they don’t. Sometimes, they may even hurt themselves to try and make their conditions seem more believable.
Men are more likely to have Munchausen syndrome than women, according to WebMD. Young adults are also most likely to have the condition. An estimated 1 percent of people admitted to a hospital may have Munchausen’s, according to the Cleveland Clinic.2
How Is It Addictive?
People with Munchausen syndrome are at risk for substance abuse and suicide. They may abuse substances as a means to make them appear sicker. Examples could include using methamphetamines to appear too thin. A person may also abuse prescription medications to make it look like they’re sick. 3This could include taking a lot of painkillers because they’re pretending like they are hurting all the time.
Sometimes it’s really hard to tell when a person who has Munchausen syndrome is telling the truth about their conditions. Usually, they repeat the behavior so much that when doctors don’t find anything wrong with them, a doctor knows the person probably has the condition.
Some of the symptoms include:
- Dramatic medical history that has a lot of “holes”
- The medical condition may seem to get better, but tends to relapse or get worse after a while
- The person only seems to have symptoms when medical personnel are watching
- Seeking medical treatment at numerous doctors’ offices and hospitals
- Not wanting the doctor to meet family, friends, or prior doctors
A person with Munchausen syndrome often has all the right descriptions of an illness. They’ve read symptoms online or in textbooks about the condition, so they can tell about it perfectly.
There’s a difference between a person who wants to be seen as ill and a person who wants to be seen as ill so they can get money. A person with Munchausen’s doesn’t do it for money, but they do for attention or sympathy.
Causes and Treatment
Are There Known Causes of Munchausen Syndrome?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes Munchausen syndrome. They think it may be some or a combination of the following considerations:
- History of abuse as a child
- History of frequent illnesses as a child
- History of neglect as a child
- Existence of personality disorders
Unfortunately, doctors don’t know any ways to prevent Munchausen syndrome as of the moment.
How Do Doctors Treat Munchausen Syndrome?
Munchausen syndrome is very hard to treat. Munchausen’s creates a paradox, where there is a desire for a medical illness, but not Munchausen’s. Some of the ways a doctor may treat the condition include:
Talk therapy (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy). This approach involves helping a person recognize how their thinking is leading them to believe they have a disorder and how to change their behavior.
Family therapy. Engaging a person’s family in their treatment can help the family learn how not to give in to a person’s treatment of the conditions they don’t really have.
Medications to treat anxiety or depression. However, Doctors must be careful not to prescribe unnecessary medications.
The goals for treatments are to keep a person from seeking out surgeries and treatments that could further damage a person’s health.
Find Peace from Munchausen Syndrome
Munchausen syndrome is a condition that typically lasts a person’s whole life. If you or someone you love may have Munchausen’s, therapy can help you find peace in the recovery process.