Munchausen syndrome (factitious disorder imposed on self): Symptoms, causes, and diagnosis

Munchausen syndrome, or factitious disorder imposed on self, is a rare psychological condition in which a person fakes a serious illness and requests medical treatment, normally to gain attention.

Factitious disorder imposed on self (FDIS), is one of a group of factitious disorders that are either invented or self-inflicted.

It is difficult to know how common it is, but a study in Germany has suggested that it may affect 1.3 percent of hospital patients.

It can affect both adults and children. It is more common in men.

What is FDIS?

[people with munchausen syndrome invent illnesses]
People with Munchausen syndrome invent illnesses to get medical attention.

An individual with FDIS may go from one hospital to another, pretending to have a disease that needs medical or surgical treatment, and giving invented information about their medical history and social background.

Occasionally, a patient will persuade a doctor that they need an unnecessary surgical procedure.

They may ingest substances or inject themselves with a chemical or other substance, or injure themselves to induce illness.

The exact prevalence of FDIS is hard to know, because patients use false names, visit different hospitals and doctors, and they can become adept at avoiding detection.

FDIS does not include faking an illness or injury to obtain drugs or to win a lawsuit, or hypochondria. A person with hypochondria believes they are ill, but a person with FDIS knows they are faking illness.

A person with this condition will usually have severe emotional difficulties.

[A person with FDIS may take pills to make themselves ill]
A person with FDIS may take pills to make themselves ill.

The patient may invent signs and symptoms or cause illness or injury by:

Reporting a fictitious medical history. They may claim to have had cancer or some other major disease

Feigning symptoms, for example, pain, seizures, headaches, or fainting. Symptoms may be carefully selected carefully and difficult to disprove.

Hurting themselves. This could include injecting themselves with bacteria, feces, or some other substance, or burn or cutting the skin.

Taking medicines to provoke symptoms of diseases, such drugs as blood thinners, chemotherapy medicines, and diabetes drugs.

Stopping the healing process by reopening cuts and wounds.

Tampering with tests. Examples include heating up thermometers when their temperature is taken, tampering with laboratory tests, or contaminating urine and blood samples.

Conditions that the person may pretend to have include heart problems, cancer, skin conditions, infections, bleeding disorders, metabolic disorders, chronic diarrhea, hypoglycemia, anaphylaxis, and others.

Causes and risk factors

It is unclear exactly what causes FDIS, but some factors may increase the risk.

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