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What is Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP)?

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a mental disorder that leads caretakers to make up symptoms or cause actual symptoms of illness in the people for whom they are supposed to be providing care. Although typically MSBP is diagnosed in mothers of small children, MSBP has also been seen in caretakers of adults and elderly, as well. Now it is known clinically as "factitious disorder imposed on another."

The exact cause of MSBP is unknown. Often, people who have the disorder have a history of abuse themselves. People who have MSBP are typically seeking attention and sympathy from medical professionals. Some experts believe that people with MSBP also feel a sense of power and satisfaction by deceiving people, including doctors and nurses whom they perceive to be more important and powerful than themselves.

MSBP is a difficult disorder to diagnose. Typically, it may be spotted by an astute medical professional who carefully reviews the victim's medical history and sees a telltale pattern that may include:
  • multiple medical problems that follow an atypical, even puzzling, persistent course
  • highly unusual physical symptoms or laboratory findings
  • drugs or chemicals found in the victim's urine, blood or stool
  • short-term symptoms that stop or improve when the victim is away from the perpetrator
  • a caregiver who is unusually interested in or knowledgeable about medical details or who seems especially supportive or demanding of medical personnel
The first step in treatment is removing the victim from the care of the perpetrator, and seeking the help of experts in law enforcement (because MSBP is a form of abuse, usually child abuse), medicine and psychiatry. MSBP can cause great harm and even death to the victim, either by means used to induce symptoms or by causing medical professionals to employ risky but unnecessary procedures.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.