Munchausen's syndrome is a psychological disorder where someone pretends to be ill or deliberately produces symptoms of illness in themselves. Their main intention is to assume the "sick role" so that people care for them and they are the centre of attention. Any practical benefit in pretending to be sick - for example, claiming incapacity benefit - is not the reason for their behaviour. Munchausen's syndrome is named after a German aristocrat, Baron Munchausen, who became famous for telling wild, unbelievable tales about his exploits.
People with Munchausen's syndrome can behave in a number of different ways, including:
- pretending to have psychological symptoms - for example, claiming to hear voices or claiming to see things that are not really there
- pretending to have physical symptoms - for example, claiming to have chest pain or a stomach ache
- actively trying to get ill - such as deliberately infecting a wound by rubbing dirt into it
Diagnosing Munchausen's syndrome can be challenging for medical professionals. People with the syndrome are often very convincing and skilled at manipulating and exploiting doctors. It may be possible to help control the symptoms of Munchausen's syndrome if the person admits they have a problem and co-operates with treatment. There's no standard treatment for Munchausen's syndrome, but a combination of psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has shown some success controlling symptoms. Psychoanalysis is a type of psychotherapy that attempts to uncover and resolve unconscious beliefs and motivations.