Mental Health Monday–Munchausen’s Syndrome

Lydia, Sarah, and I are converging to make the perfect storm trifecta of blog posts regarding Munchausen’s Syndrome.

Named after the great Baron von Munchausen, who purportedly told elaborate and fictional stories about himself, Munchausen’s Disorder is part of a class of disorders called Facticious Disorders.

The DSM-IV criteria for Facticious Disorders include:

  • Intentionally producing or feigning symptoms of a medical or mental illness
  • External motivators (as found in Malingering) (such as wanting three hots and a cot) are absent
  • Motivation for such behavior is to adapt the “sick role”

Munchausen Syndrome Factoids:

  • Individuals suffering from Munchausen Syndrome have a particularly chronic and severe course
  • They tend to have medical knowledge or even training in the medical field
  • They will intentionally infect themselves or overdose on medication such that medical intervention is necessary. Examples include: putting urine, feces, or dirty water in a wound; taking insulin to cause a drop in blood sugar; taking Warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner, to cause bruising and bleeding
  • They will often submit to or even demand invasive procedures and surgeries. A telltale sign of someone with Munchausen’s Syndrome is multiple scars over their bodies, particularly the abdomen
  • They will often move from town to town, hospital to hospital, especially when they are “found out”

The risks of having Munchausen’s Syndrome:

  • Feigning illness leads to unnecessary and sometimes risky procedures
  • Infecting a wound or overdosing on medications could be life-threatening
  • A patient often lies about real medical issues or allergies and therefore could be given treatment that will harm or even kill them
  • Because of multiple, unnecessary visits to hospitals, they are more at risk of developing iatrogenic illness
  • They often refuse corroboration with other treatment providers, leaving gaps in history that may be significant for a clinician to know

So, how do we help people with Munchausen’s Syndrome?

It’s VERY difficult. Most do not admit to their behavior and become very angry when confronted. They sign out AMA (Against Medical Advice) and seek another hospital/clinician. They are often not even remotely interested in psychiatric help. They have little insight (internal understanding) of their illness and behavior. In other words, they aren’t able to see what makes it risky or potentially harmful.

The individual in the photo below had over 40 unnecessary surgeries. Turns out, he did end up developing colon cancer. Talk about the case of the boy who cried wolf!

Remember, these posts are for WRITING PURPOSES ONLY and are NOT to be construed as medical or psychiatric treatment or advice.

ALSO, check out Kendall Grey’s blog today–I’m up for her Manual Transmission tour! 🙂

24 comments on “Mental Health Monday–Munchausen’s Syndrome

  1. Sarah Fine says:

    Lack of insight is perhaps the most frustrating thing to deal with in any disorder. Great post, Laura!

  2. Lynn Rush says:

    Great post, Laura. I’ve always wondered about this syndrome. Thanks!

  3. Hi, Laura! I came over from Sarah’s blog today.
    Interesting post — and the hardest aspect of all would be the resistance to proper medical treatment! Not treatment for their self-induced problems, of course, but treatment that would actually alleviate their psychiatric problem.

    Because they get satisfaction out of it, obviously. How sad.

  4. salarsen says:

    I can only imagine how difficult it must be to help someone suffering from this disorder. It’s similar to a patient suffering from alcoholism or even depression: they must recognize that they have a problem in order to get help. That’s always tough. Very informative post!

  5. kendallgrey says:

    That’s so strange! I can imagine it must be very frustrating for a doctor trying to treat a patient with Munchausen’s syndrome. Thanks for this interesting information!

  6. I remember hearing about this disorder on ER a few years ago.

    Great topic! I’ve enjoyed reading about it from all your angles. I’m still not sure why anyone would want to do that to themselves. Most of us would prefer to avoid hospitals if we can. *shudders*

  7. LydiaK says:

    So fascinating. I’ve learned something from both your and Sarah’s post today. So fascinating, yet so horrible…

  8. Karen Lange says:

    It makes me shudder just thinking about this! It’s sad to think that some actually go to these lengths for attention. Thanks for the info.

  9. Wow, just wow. I suppose I had heard of this before, but I had no idea how complex it could be. Oh man, I mean that one example Lydia gave!

  10. Linda Gray says:

    As a tv-medical.-show junkie, I’ve seen Munchausen’s portrayed several times, to chilling effect. It’s obviously a tragic, complicated topic (excellent fodder for writers). A couple of times the tv-show writers had the person suffering from Munchausen’s (typically a mom) not making herself sick, but making her child sick, and even putting the child’s life in jeopardy in order to portray herself as medically brilliant and a martyred victim to a dying child’s needs. The objective: to get sympathy, appreciation and tons of attention. Is that something that actually happens with this awful syndrome, Laura?

  11. Is there something that triggers this syndrome? I can’t even imagine how a person would develop this condition.

  12. Linda Gray says:

    Ahh, just saw Sarah’s post. Never mind abt. my question, Laura–now I know I was remembering Munchausen’s by Proxy!

  13. Fascinating and sad. So, it’s different than a hypochondriac because they actually do things to hurt themselves.

  14. Hi Laura–Nice trifecta!!! I am most familiar with “by proxy” begin a former child and family therapist, but all the same it’s sad and strange!! Nice job!

  15. lenny says:

    hi dr laura! yikes! it pretty sad to wanna be sick. do a lot of people do that? for sure im gonna go read what miss lydia says on her post.
    …hugs from lenny

  16. So scary to think of people making themselves or children sick on purpose.

  17. Krispy says:

    It’s fascinating but also sad disorder. How incredibly frustrating for medical providers though, and the people who do care about the person!

  18. roguemutt says:

    This post is way too negative…

  19. J E Fritz says:

    Very strange and kind of frightening. I’ve met people who want others to pity/take care of them, but this is so extreme. And of course, you can’t help someone who won’t admit they have a problem…

  20. Donna Hole says:

    I get this confused with the other one; the parent that inflicts harm on their child to garner attention from medical/news arenas.

    Still, this is gross. I hate getting sick; uck. My “sick days” at work are usually well planned 🙂

    Oh, and congrats on finishing NaNo. Sorry I haven’t been around. I’ve been skimming the posts as they come in my e-mail, but been a bit busy . .


  21. Donna Hole says:

    Oh hey Laura; feel like following this one up with the other one I mentioned? Ever seen the two syndromes in the same family/individual? An interesting story concept perhaps, for mom to be poisioning herself and her kid both for the attention seeking aspect. Jumps on Torte wagon for the ultimate nuerotic pay off . .



  22. akossket says:

    This is one scary disorder, especially since the patient has the ability to hide or refuse or deny any sort of treatment. Very scary…

  23. andreaavigal says:

    I am a survivor of Munchausen Syndrome. I also co-authored my story with my former psychologist who saved my life. It is an awful disorder and for me the childhood abuse I endured was equally awful. That was the blueprint for the development of FD. My book is called “Secrets Unraveled: Overcoming Munchausen Syndrome” and I can proudly say that I am now in my seventh year of recovery.

  24. Kay Fish says:

    I have recovered from this horrible illness, but the guilt of what I have done is overwhelming. Devastating. That is what I suffer from now.
    I have had this since I was15, as far as I know. I am now 59, and for whatever reason, this illness has left me.
    Now, that I have come out of the fog of this, I am so ashamed and disgusted by what I have done to myself, but more concerned about those people throughout my life, that I have lied to. Have come pick me up at hospitals, which I, supposedly was having treatment….and on and on. It has been a lifelong nightmare that I have inflicted on others.
    Oh, my dear Lord, I am so, so sorry. I didn’t know. I didn’t know.

    Where do I go to get help for the guilt and shame that this illness has left me?
    It is eating me alive.

    This illness has not only taken the first 59 years of my life, it is taking what is left of it with this guilt, regret and shame.

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