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Münchausen syndrome: The Lying Patient?

“Hey, come closer doctor, let me tell you something,” Nurse Evelyn signaled to the new doctor in the medical ward.

“Hi nurse Evelyn,” the young doctor replied.

“You know that patient in Room 10?” She asked.

“Not really, you know I’m new here. What about the patient?” The doctor asked.

“Well, he keeps coming here though he’s been certified okay. “This time…”, she looked around to be sure no one was watching and continued in a low voice “…he put his fingers in his mouth to induce vomiting, just so he can be admitted to the hospital.”

Münchausen syndrome

Münchausen syndrome is also known as hospital addiction syndrome or hospital hopper syndrome. The syndrome is named after a literary character called Baron Münchausen, who was a well-known storyteller that fed many fake or exaggerated stories to his audience. The syndrome is more common in men, particularly youth and middle-aged individuals.

It is a mental disorder in which an individual fakes sickness and symptoms to gain attention or sympathy from medical personnel.

Usually, the individual isn’t after any financial gain, drugs, or absence from responsibilities. People with the syndrome would go to any length and are willing to bear the hospital costs just to have medical attention.

Patients with Münchausen syndrome usually have extensive knowledge about some medical conditions with which they form their stories.

Münchausen syndrome is not the same as hypochondria. While the latter is an intense, unfounded fear of being critically ill; patients with Münchausen syndrome intentionally make up their symptoms.

Making a diagnosis of Münchausen syndrome may be difficult as affected patients often take on different identities or change hospitals regularly, so they would not get caught in the act.

Signs and symptoms

  1. Frequent hospitalization
  2. Vast knowledge of numerous medical conditions
  3. Concocted stories about medical issues
  4. Few or no visitors during these hospitalizations, as the loved ones are often aware of these antics.
  5. No reservations to having surgery or invasive procedures. Thus, patients with the syndrome have a lot of scars due to numerous “emergency” operations.

Risk factors associated with this syndrome

Factors that predispose to this condition include:

  • Childhood traumas
  • Absence of parental care or being with emotionally detached parents
  • Low self-esteem
  • Failed ambitions of working in the hospital

Treatment

Treatment of this condition is led by a mental health professional that will explore the cause of the patient’s behavior and determine the best way to address it. The doctor does a careful analysis of the person’s personal and medical background, to identify possible risk factors of the behavior.

Treatment may include a combination of medications and therapy sessions. Therapy sessions involve a technique called cognitive-behavioral therapy, in which the person learns how to change their thinking and behavior.

Non-treatment of this syndrome could lead to other health problems, such as anxiety disorders, self-inflicted injuries, and possibly death from some of their harmful behaviors.