Munchausen syndrome symptoms revolve around faking or producing illness or injury in order to meet deep emotional needs. People with Munchausen syndrome go to great lengths to avoid discovery of their deception, so it may be difficult to notice that their symptoms are actually part of a serious mental disorder.

Munchausen syndrome is not the same as inventing medical problems for practical benefit, such as getting out of work or winning a lawsuit. It also isn't the same as hypochondria. People with hypochondria truly believe they are sick, whereas people with Munchausen syndrome aren't sick, but they want to be.

In Munchausen syndrome by proxy, someone makes another person ill in order to win sympathy. Usually, Munchausen syndrome by proxy involves a parent harming a child.

Munchausen syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Dramatic stories about numerous medical problems
  • Frequent hospitalizations
  • Vague or inconsistent symptoms
  • Conditions that get worse for no apparent reason
  • Eagerness to undergo frequent testing or risky operations
  • Extensive knowledge of medical terminology and diseases
  • Seeking treatment from many different doctors or hospitals
  • Having few visitors when hospitalized
  • Reluctance to allow health professionals to talk to family or friends
  • Arguing with hospital staff
  • Frequent requests for pain relievers or other medications

How those with Munchausen syndrome fake illness

Because people with Munchausen syndrome become experts at faking symptoms and diseases or inflicting real injuries upon themselves, it's sometimes hard for medical professionals and loved ones to know if illnesses are real or not.

People with Munchausen syndrome make up symptoms or cause illness in several ways, including:

  • Made-up histories. They may give loved ones, health care providers or even Internet support groups a false medical history, such as claiming to have had cancer or HIV.
  • Faking symptoms. They may fake symptoms, such as abdominal pain, seizures or passing out.
  • Self-harm. They may injure or make themselves sick, such as injecting themselves with bacteria, milk, gasoline or feces. They may cut or burn themselves. They may take medications to mimic diseases, such as blood thinners, chemotherapy medications and diabetes medications.
  • Preventing healing. They may interfere with wounds, such as reopening cuts.
  • Tampering. They may manipulate medical instruments to skew results, such as heating up thermometers. Or they may tamper with laboratory tests, such as contaminating their urine samples with blood or other substances.

When to see a doctor

People with Munchausen syndrome may be well aware of the risk of injury or even death as a result of the self-harm they seek. Still, they are unable to control their compulsive behavior and are unlikely to seek help.

If you think a loved one may be exaggerating or faking his or her health problems, it may help to attempt a gentle conversation about your concerns. Try to avoid anger, judgment or confrontation. Offer support and caring and, if possible, help in finding treatment.

May. 13, 2011