Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a factitious disorder which occurs when a person pretends to be caring for a sick person and may take steps to make the “sick” person ill. While any caregiver can develop Munchausen syndrome by proxy, it is most common among parents, and children are the most common victims.

What is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

People with Munchausen syndrome by proxy go to efforts to make another person in their life appear ill or actually become ill. Parents might administer low doses of poison or medications that have unusual side effects. In other cases, they simply claim that a child is having symptoms that do not actually exist. The behavior is not designed to gain money or similar gains; instead, it is an attempt to gain attention and/or sympathy. People with the condition may allow those for whom they care to undergo painful, invasive, or risky medical procedures even when they know they are unnecessary. Muchausen syndrome by proxy is extremely uncommon, occurring in about 2 out of every 100,000 children.

What Causes Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy?

Munchausen syndrome by proxy occurs when a person’s own needs are so strong that they cannot respect or empathize with another person. There is no single clear cause for this syndrome. Some people with this condition were victims of abuse. Others may have a strong need for attention and affection. People experiencing major stress or with other psychiatric conditions are more likely to develop Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

How is Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Treated?

This condition can be challenging to detect, and there is some debate about whether some people are erroneously diagnosed with the syndrome. A parent who is extremely anxious about his or her child’s health, for example, could be falsely diagnosed with the syndrome. When this condition occurs, however, treatment centers around helping the victim–usually a child–recover from symptoms. Children whose parents have the disorder frequently need intensive psychotherapy. Adults with the syndrome can benefit from life skills training, stress management techniques, and psychotherapy. When depression or other psychiatric conditions play a role, treating the underlying condition may help alleviate the symptoms of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

References:

  • Munchausen by proxy syndrome. (n.d.). KidsHealth. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/munchausen.html
  • Munchausen syndrome by proxy. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/factitious_disorders/hic_munchausen_syndrome_by_proxy.aspx

Last Updated: 08-12-2015

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