Munchausen's syndrome is when a person pretends to be ill or self-harms to:
- make an illness worse
- bring on an illness
There are 4 main ways people with Munchausen's syndrome fake or induce illnesses.
Lying about symptoms
Choosing symptoms that are difficult to disprove. This can include having a severe headache, pretending to have a seizure or to pass out.
Tampering with test results
Heating a thermometer to suggest a fever or adding blood to a urine sample.
Cutting or burning themselves, self-poisoning, or eating food contaminated with bacteria.
Aggravating pre-existing conditions
Rubbing poo into a wound to cause an infection or reopening healed wounds.
Signs of Munchausen's syndrome
Signs that a person may have Munchausen's syndrome include:
- making frequent visits to hospitals in different areas
- claiming to have a history of complex and serious medical conditions
- having symptoms that don't match with test results
- having symptoms that get worse for no clear reason
- having very good medical knowledge
- being willing to undergo often painful or dangerous tests and procedures
- reporting symptoms that are vague and inconsistent
- telling unbelievable and often very elaborate stories about their past
Munchausen's by internet
Munchausen's by internet is a new phenomenon. It is where a person joins an internet support group for people with a serious health condition. They then claim to have the illness themselves.
These actions can have a negative impact on support groups and online communities.
Hypochondria and malingering
Munchausen's syndrome is different than hypochondria (health anxiety) or malingering.
Hypochondria is a psychiatric disorder where a person has a fear of illness. They interpret normal body functions as signs of major illness.
Malingering is faking illness to gain a material benefit. For example, to avoid military duty or get compensation.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.