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What should you know about factitious disorders (Munchausen syndrome)?

Baron Karl Friedrich von Munchausen travelling on a canon ball

What is the medical definition of factitious disorder?

Facticious disorder (previously called “Munchausen syndrome“) is characterized by feigning or intentionally producing physical or emotional symptoms in another person in order to place that person in the sick role.

What are the symptoms of factitious disorders?

Symptoms a victim of factitious disorders signs and symptoms vary greatly; however, they may have symptoms that are more easily faked or induced, like suffocation, seizure, bleeding or nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea that can be the result of poisoning presents with are highly variable,

What is the prevalence of factitious disorders?

How often factitious disorders occurs is likely very much underestimated, as evidenced by it often taking years to be discovered, even being completely missed in siblings of the victim that is eventually identified.

Who are the victims of factitious disorders?

Males are victims of factitious disorders as often as females. Women are perpetrators of this disorder the vast majority of the time, theoretically because women remain the primary caretakers of children. Perpetrators of the syndrome are vulnerable to also suffering from depression, anxiety, and some personality disorders.

What causes factitious disorders?

While there is no specific cause for MSBP, perpetrators tend to have trouble forming a healthy attachment to their children, difficulty managing their anger and frustration, as well as having an ability to overcome the more natural tendency for caretakers to protect the children they care for. Perpetrators are also more likely to have a history of either losing a parent or being abused or neglected as a child.

Theories about what perpetrators gain from assuming the sick role through their child include seeking help, inducing symptoms, and being “addicted” to interactions with medical professionals.

How are factitious disorders diagnosed?

Factitious disorders usually is diagnosed through intensive communication between medical, mental-health, and child-protection professionals, as well as review of all available medical records and interviewing family members, school personnel, and other pertinent community members. Sometimes, covertly videotaping the suspected abuser when with the child can be a useful additional diagnostic tool.

What is the treatment for factitious disorders?

The treatment of MSBP involves close collaboration with professionals, family, and community members, intensive psychotherapy for the victim and the perpetrator, as well as protecting the child by either intensive supervision of the perpetrator, temporary or permanent removal of the child from the care of the abuser, and sometimes includes prosecution and incarceration of the perpetrator.

What if factitious disorders aren’t treated?

If left untreated, MSBP can result in the child’s death or growing up emotionally and/or medically disabled.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is now classified as a somatic symptom and related disorder. It is referred to as factitious disorder that is imposed by one individual on another or factitious disorder by proxy.

What is factitious disorder by proxy?

Factitious disorders by proxy features a caretaker covertly abusing a child by faking or causing symptoms in the victim. Factitious disorder (previously called Munchhausen syndrome) is a disorder that imposes one person another by proxy induced illness, or fabricated illness, and is a mental disorder that belongs to the group of mental illnesses called somatic symptom and related disorders. It is characterized by a feigning or intentional production of physical or mental-health symptoms in another person for the sole purpose of placing the other person in the sick role. While the reported frequency with which occurs seems low at one to three in 100,000, it is likely that the actual number of undiscovered cases is much higher. International statistics indicate that this condition is being increasingly assessed when it is severe, and as many as 1% of children with asthma have experienced at least once. Tends to affect males as victims as often as females. Affected individuals are usually 4 years old or younger and mothers are typically the perpetrators most of the time. The tendency toward maternal perpetrators may be more a result of women continuing to be the primary caregiver role than any gender-based predisposition to the disorder. Can take two years or more from the beginning or onset of symptoms to when it is diagnosed. Victims of are ominously found to have a sibling who is either deceased or to have had medical problems similar to the current victim of the disorder.

This disorder was named for Baron Karl Friedrich von Munchausen. He lived from 1720-1797, was born in Germany, joined the Russian military, and was known to tell fantastic tales about the battles he participated in against the Ottoman Turks. For example, he apparently told stories about riding cannonballs and traveling to the moon. As opposed to (factitious disorder imposed on another person), factitious disorder imposed on self is a mental illness in which what are initially thought to be symptoms of illness in the sufferer are in reality a fabrication of the illness by the sufferer rather than fabrication of illness by a third person. The motivation for factitious disorder imposed on self also tends to be an attempt by the sufferer to be seen as sick (assuming the sick or patient role). Emotional problems that tend to co-occur in people with include depression, anxiety, and some personality disorders like borderline personality disorder and sociopathy.

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