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Munchausen's syndrome - signs and symptoms

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.

Self-infliction

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.

Related topic

Hypochondria

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

Page last reviewed: 21/03/2019
Next review due: 21/03/2022

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