Munchausen syndrome is a mental disorder. The people concerned invent illnesses and complaints.
What is Munchausen Syndrome?
The so-called Munchausen syndrome is one of the artificial disorders. It is also known as luminary killer syndrome. A typical feature of the mental disorder is the intentional invention of illnesses and physical complaints. These are presented dramatically, but quite plausibly, by those affected. See psyknowhow for IgG4-associated Autoimmune Diseases Explained.
The Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a special form . The damage is not inflicted on the patient himself, but on a representative. These are usually close relatives such as their own children. The term Munchausen syndrome was first used in 1951 by the English psychiatrist Richard Asher (1912-1969). The famous baron of lies Münchhausen, who repeatedly fascinated his listeners with his lies, served as the namesake.
Doctors attribute the development of Munchausen syndrome to severe traumatic experiences in the childhood of the affected person. Some patients have been victims of physical violence or sexual abuse. But neglect can also play a significant role. Many of those affected suffer from a lack of attention or feel that they are not given enough attention.
A typical feature of Munchausen syndrome is the frequent stays of patients in doctor’s offices or hospitals. While normal patients do not like going to these facilities, people with Munchausen syndrome do happily go there. In this way, they intend to compensate for the attention they have not received so far. They are not interested in financial benefits or sick leave.
Rather, they experience a form of attention through the numerous examinations that they enjoy. Older people who lack family or social contacts are particularly affected by Munchausen syndrome. Instead, they perceive the doctor or nurse as a helper. Sometimes those affected get so into their medical histories that they even end up in the hospital.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The main symptom of Munchausen syndrome is making up lies about one’s health. The patients go to a doctor and describe complaints from which they hardly or not at all suffer. It is not uncommon for truth and untruth to be mixed up. In addition, social contacts are often broken off. Doctors and clinics are also repeatedly exchanged. Excessive travel is not uncommon.
The patient has the constant desire to see a doctor and to take on the role of the patient. In some cases, patients even go so far as to physically harm themselves. These include inflicting abrasions or cuts, injecting infectious substances, and injecting insulin to induce hypoglycaemia. In addition, pain is feigned and surgical interventions are requested that are not necessary.
In Munchausen syndrome by proxy, it is not the person affected who suffers this damage, but a representative like a child. Most of the time, the perpetrators are the mothers who falsify their children’s measurements, give them medication such as laxatives, or mix sugar in a urine sample so that the doctor believes there is a disease.
In extreme cases, the child’s bones can even be broken, which is a severe form of child abuse. Problematically, some people suffering from Proxy Munchausen work in medical professions themselves, making it easier for them to fake illnesses.
Diagnosis & course of disease
Diagnosing Munchausen syndrome is not easy. Since those affected present their complaints in a deceptively genuine manner, it is difficult to assume that they are intentional. The constant complaining of symptoms is considered an indication of the mental disorders. There are often deviations and there are always new versions.
However, if the doctor cannot find a basis for the symptoms presented, those affected usually quickly change him and start the game again. Another tip is to avoid meeting relatives or friends in a hospital. Often no reference persons are given at all.
In some cases, Munchausen syndrome can have serious consequences for those affected. Among other things, there is a risk of unnecessary surgical interventions, which in turn cause damage to health. Self-injury to one’s own body can also result in significant impairments. After all, social problems threaten when the swindle is finally exposed. Munchausen syndrome usually takes a chronic course.
People with Munchausen syndrome are difficult to treat. They also do not shy away from harming themselves when feigning illness. They prefer to attend emergency consultations in the hospital and report their symptoms because they know that emergency physicians will have to examine them more closely due to the extensive complaints they have reported and will therefore admit them to the hospital first.
In most cases, the sufferers have dealt extensively with medical literature and provide the explanation for their symptoms at the same time. In order to achieve inpatient admission, they are very creative in simulating symptoms of illness and will stop at nothing. They burn their skin with acid, cause bruises themselves, artificially cause a fever, use medication to inhibit blood clotting and even inject themselves with insulin to simulate hypoglycaemia.
They usually have short-term success with this, but doctors quickly see through this strategy and try to initiate psychotherapeutic treatment. But these people are not accessible for that. They do not want to be treated and healed, they want attention that they no longer get when they are healed. They know that and therefore often change doctors. Their self-injurious behavior can take on dangerous proportions, for example when they manipulate a sepsis. People with Munchausen syndrome are also at an increased risk of suicide.
When should you go to the doctor?
Munchausen syndrome is a difficult mental illness to diagnose. In addition, the person concerned lacks insight into the illness. In these cases, the help and cooperation of family members, friends or people from the social environment is often required. Since the sick people constantly undergo changing medical treatment and fake illnesses or injuries, it is often not possible for the treating physicians to take the necessary steps. Due to the duty of confidentiality and a non-existent exchange between medical practices, connections remain hidden and make it difficult to diagnose the disease.
A doctor should be consulted by family members as soon as they become aware that the person concerned is regularly lying or harming themselves. If a third person is harmed by the sick person, immediate action must be taken. Since those affected can plan and conceal their plans well, irregularities often go unnoticed for years or decades. If a regular turnover of doctors or members of the social environment is perceived, there is cause for concern. This process is a sign of a malfunction, it should be pursued carefully and inconspicuously. Incidental findings often occur or people from the environment who, however, do not maintain intimate contact with the person concerned can provide the decisive information.
Treatment & Therapy
Although the complaints of people suffering from Munchausen syndrome are only imaginary, they still need extensive therapy. However, your actual condition is not treated during the doctor’s visits. It is a major problem that patients often resist therapy because they do not see the need for it. For this reason, a very careful approach by the doctor must be taken.
In addition, it usually requires cooperation with a psychiatrist, in the context of which inpatient therapy takes place. If it is possible to establish a relationship of trust with the patient, psychotherapy can then be carried out. In the course of the treatment, several inpatient and outpatient phases alternate.
It is also important to rule out actual organic diseases with certainty. It is not uncommon for the physical damage to be treated, which the affected person has taught himself. In order to monitor the course of therapy, the patient is closely observed and has to fill out various questionnaires. Some patients also have other mental illnesses, such as a personality disorder, which also require special therapy. The administration of psychotropic drugs and the use of relaxation methods can also be helpful.
Outlook & Forecast
The prognosis for Munchausen syndrome is generally considered poor. The reason for this is that those affected with this shift in perception show no insight at all when confronted with their suffering. Medical help is often sought. However, this applies at most to (alleged) suffering and to receive attention. Psychotherapeutic approaches push those affected from the role of the demanding to the role of the needy. In most cases, this is met with rejection.
In addition, doctors are often changed by those affected, which can even delay the time of a suspected diagnosis by the treating doctor considerably. If it then comes to the point where a treating doctor confronts the patient with a possible Munchausen syndrome, the patient usually changes doctors.
Furthermore, with Munchausen syndrome there is the possibility that unnecessary medication or even operations can actually cause damage. These are woven into the behavior of the person concerned and additionally underpin the self-image of the role as a patient.
The prospect of freeing an affected person from his Munchausen syndrome is therefore very slim. In rare cases, relatives or medical staff can convince the person concerned of their suffering or explain to them that they need psychotherapeutic treatment.
There are no known preventive measures against Munchausen syndrome.
As a rule, those affected by Munchausen syndrome only have limited follow-up measures available. Those affected are primarily dependent on an early diagnosis of this disease, so that a further deterioration of the symptoms can be prevented. Therefore, above all, the patient’s relatives should point out the symptoms to the patient, whereby in some cases compulsory admission to a closed clinic may even be necessary.
Those affected depend on the permanent support of their own families. Loving and intensive conversations with one’s own family in particular have a very positive effect on the further course of the disease. The symptoms can also be alleviated with the help of relaxation exercises. Many of the exercises can also be repeated at home, so that the treatment of Munchausen syndrome is accelerated.
Likewise, the triggers for this syndrome should be prevented and limited as far as possible. In many cases, contact with other people affected by the syndrome is also useful. It is not uncommon for an exchange of information to take place, which can make everyday life easier for those affected. As a rule, this disease does not reduce the patient’s life expectancy.
You can do that yourself
People suffering from Munchausen syndrome require extensive therapy. Treatment focuses on helping the person affected in everyday life. Friends and relatives can help by showing understanding and repeatedly pointing out the apparently imaginary complaints to the person concerned.
In cooperation with a psychiatrist, further measures can be taken to relieve the symptoms. Long-term relief can only be achieved with a comprehensive therapy concept consisting of psychological talks, relaxation exercises and drug treatment. Regular relaxation is particularly important to counteract stress and other typical triggers. People who suffer from Munchausen syndrome as a result of a traumatic experience also have to work through the causes in the long term. You can do this by visiting self-help groups and having therapy sessions, but also by keeping a diary or talking to a close friend.
A lack of attention is a common trigger for acute symptoms, which is why family and friends should spend a lot of time with the sick person. In the case of severe symptoms, temporary accommodation in a psychiatric clinic can be useful. Due to the many possible symptoms and characteristics of Munchausen syndrome, only a specialist can answer which measures are to be taken in detail.