Munchausen syndrome by proxy

Definition

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental illness and a form of child abuse. The caretaker of a child, most often a mother, either makes up fake symptoms or causes real symptoms to make it look like the child is sick.

Causes

No one is sure what causes Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Sometimes, the person was abused as a child or has Munchausen syndrome (fake illness for themselves).

Symptoms

The caretaker can do extreme things to fake symptoms of illness in the child. For example, the caretaker may:

What are signs in a cartaker?

What are signs in a child?

Exams and Tests

To diagnose Munchausen syndrome by proxy, providers have to see the clues. They have to review the child's medical record to see what has happened with the child over time. Very often, Munchausen syndrome by proxy goes undiagnosed.

Treatment

The child needs to be protected. They may need to be removed from the direct care of the caretaker in question.

Children may require medical care to treat complications from injuries, infections, medicines, surgeries, or tests. They also need psychiatric care to deal with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder that can happen with child abuse.

Treatment most often involves individual and family therapy. Because this is a form of child abuse, the syndrome must be reported to the authorities.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

If you think a child is being abused, contact a provider, the police, or child protective services.

Call 911 for any child in immediate danger because of abuse or neglect.

You can also call this national hotline. Crisis counselors are available 24/7. Interpreters are available to help in 170 languages. The counselor on the phone can help you figure out the next steps. All calls are anonymous and confidential. Call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

Prevention

Recognition of Munchausen syndrome by proxy in the child-parent relationship can prevent continued abuse and unnecessary, expensive, and possibly dangerous medical testing.


Review Date: 9/5/2017
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 08/31/2018.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.