Munchausen syndrome

There is an old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It is a popular axiom because most people have a goal in life to keep doctors away. It is rare that you meet someone who relishes a good, old fashioned check up. Not many folks want to spend their time getting poked, prodded, pinched, lectured to or weighed. Believe it or not, there are actually some people who want so badly to have frequent medical attention that they will actually do the unthinkable—they will purposely hurt themselves. These people suffer from Munchausen Syndrome.

What, Exactly, is Munchausen Syndrome?
Munchausen syndrome is a mental illness that causes someone to repeatedly act out all the symptoms of a physical or mental disorder that they do not actually have. People with Munchausen syndrome will even go so far as to deliberately hurt or poison themselves in order to get their bodies to mimic any physical symptoms a disease or disorder may have.

In addition to causing themselves physical symptoms of illnesses, they will even have surgeries, medical procedures and take potentially harmful medications as long as they are part of the treatment or diagnosis of the disorder they are pretending to have.

If you are wondering where the name Munchausen came from, it was given to the disorder by doctors who were familiar with the story of an 18th century Baron—Baron von Munchausen—who was constantly exaggerating the stories of his life. His tales of woe and pain were so greatly exaggerated that his name was the perfect descriptor for this troubling disorder.

Symptoms of Munchausen Syndrome
While you may think that everyone who turns a minor cut into a life threatening wound when retelling a story of an injury is suffering from Munchausen Syndrome, that is actually not the case. In order to be diagnosed with Munchausen Syndrome, the patient must exhibit certain symptoms that go well beyond the talent to tell a tall tale.

  • Dramatic: When someone with Munchausen Syndrome gives their medical history to a nurse, friend or doctor, it will be wildly dramatic. Tales of near death experiences, constant life threatening illness and very dramatic recoveries will abound.
  • Inconsistent: People with Munchausen Syndrome want to capitalize on the attention they get so they may make up their medical history as they go along, adding in illnesses and symptoms that will have the best effect on the listener.
  • Knowingly Misleading: Unlike hypochondriacs who actually think they are suffering from these illnesses. A person with Munchausen Syndrome knows that they are in no way physically ill.
  • Extreme Medical Knowledge: Patients suffering from Munchausen Syndrome have impressive knowledge of medical procedures, jargon, illnesses and hospitals—more so than the average patient.
  • Hidden Symptoms: Symptoms will only occur while patient is alone because, well, they really aren’t suffering any symptoms.

Curing Munchausen Syndrome
Munchausen syndrome is not just a simple form of depression that medication can treat. Unfortunately, Munchausen syndrome is caused by physiological problems as well as psychological problems, so that makes it even more difficult to effectively treat. Since the majority of people with Munchausen Syndrome will never admit that they are not actually sick, it is difficult if not impossible to get them the psychological treatment they need. Even if you do manage to get them to a psychiatrist’s couch, they might not want to be cured, which makes counseling ineffective. Should a psychiatrist get a willing patient, they may attempt behavior modification and depression medication, if depression is found to be underlying.

Since many people in treatment for Munchausen syndrome will continue to “act out” and fake illnesses, it is important to only use depression medication as treatment when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, it could interfere with other treatment they receive.

Last updated on Dec 1st, 2009 and filed under Mental Health. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed