Münchhausen syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatment

Baron Münchhausen, 1 German baron who served in Antonio Ulrico II and later enlisted in the Russian army, he lends his name to this disturbing syndrome because the baron, back in his hometown, told improbable stories and invented his adventures far from home, among which stand out on horseback on the bullet from a cannon and go to the moon.

One of the earliest cases of Münchhausen syndrome, Which gained some popularity for its appearance in the House series but which is, after all, a totally real phenomenon.

What is Münchhausen syndrome?

This factitious disorder consists of a constant and intentional faking of illnesses, usually very convincing and spectacular. To this end, the patient can self-injure, ingest toxic substances and even self-inject bacteria such as Escherichia coli. The affected person is motivated to take on the role of patient and to feel supported and cared for.

This mental disorder typically begins in the early stages of adulthood, is more common in men, and particularly in people working in a medical service environment, many of whom have knowledge and ability to access materials that facilitate reproduction syndrome.

Symptoms of Münchhausen syndrome

Symptoms are limited by the knowledge or imagination of the patient. Although they vary widely, the most common are allergic reactions, breathing problems, seizures, diarrhea, fever, fainting, vomiting, and even hydroelectric disturbances. In addition, people with this syndrome often need large doses of pain relievers and narcotics.

Patients with Münchhausen syndrome often go to different hospitals to complain about the same illnesses described in the previous hospital they visited; in addition, their medical knowledge and the accuracy of the representation of their symptoms require doctors to repeatedly perform different tests and diagnostic methods. They do not oppose any test, no matter how painful and they have a special submission regarding hospitalization in a health center.

This disorder can be of different intensity depending on the person affected. For example, in Cuba, serious cases have been described in which the patient came to inoculate the HIV virus.

Basic characteristics and signals

The Münchhausen patient can be described in the following points:

  • Constant search for the role of the patient.
  • Self-harm and self-administration of medication cause symptoms that may seem believable.
  • Very repeated hospital care.
  • Aggressive behavior when guilty of faking symptoms or when a doctor refuses to give you a test (even if it is not necessary).
  • Excellent knowledge of medical concepts.


Diagnosis of the patient from Münchhausen relies on the elimination of other psychiatric syndromes once it is detected that the patient has a disorder of this nature.

On the one hand, medical specialists must rule out other pathologies with very similar characteristics, such as somatization disorder, where there are physical symptoms without any medical illness explaining them. The main difference between somatization disorder and Münchhausen syndrome is that in the former there is a real physical symptomatology, although of unknown origin.

On the other hand, the hypochondriac patient exaggerates some of the symptoms he believes he has, while in Münchhausen syndrome, despite the continuous complaints, the patient is fully aware that his symptoms are being faked. It should also be distinguished from classic cases of hysteria, where both the production and the motivation of symptoms are unconscious.

Diagnostic criteria

Usually, once other diseases have been ruled out, the diagnostic criteria are:

1. Dramatic clinical picture, Which describes spectacular diseases.

2. Want tests, interventions, exams… even if they are told they are unnecessary.

3. Context many hospitalizations.

4. Evidence of self-medication or self-harm such as: cuts, scars, bruises …

5. He is generally considered a bad patient because it does not cooperate with treatments and tests medical decisions.

Syndrome treatment

This phase presents a particular difficulty, because the person suffering from Münchhausen syndrome, once he feels discovered he tends to get aggressive. After that, he disappears from the clinic and goes to another where he tells about his symptoms.

In the treatment of patients with this syndrome, there are two alternatives:

direct confrontation

One option in which the main problem is that the patient, as we have already said, leaves the hospital to go to another, or accepts psychiatric treatment that he will cease to follow and to which he will not return.

indirect confrontation

In this strategy, the patient is treated psychiatrically but without the patient’s knowledge. The point is that instead of faking the symptoms, patients learn to solicit the attention of others in a different way. In addition, they must learn to cope better with stressful situations and ignore the thoughts that lead them to seek the role of patient and hospitalization, all with the help of psychologists and psychiatrists.

To finish, professionals must help improve the self-esteem of these people, And counter phobic, insecure and addictive behaviors.

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