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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a mental health disorder and form of abuse in which a caregiver—usually a mother—claims or causes an illness in another person—usually her child. The caregiver may directly hurt the person to produce symptoms or may cause the person to undergo unnecessary medical tests or treatments that are often painful and potentially harmful.

Caregivers may:

  • Falsely claim the person under their care has experienced serious symptoms, such as seizures, diarrhea, vomiting, or apnea.
  • Contaminate test results to make the person under their care appear ill.
  • Physically harm the person under their care to produce symptoms.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy sometimes is triggered by a child or vulnerable adult having a true illness from which the caregiver gains attention and satisfaction. A caregiver sometimes victimizes more than one person under his or her care but not at the same time. A person who is a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is at increased risk for developing mental health problems and complications of unnecessary medical treatment.

Diagnosis requires careful scrutiny and documentation by a team of health professionals who will involve police, adult or child protection services, and the courts. The caregiver is held legally accountable for his or her actions and requires mental health counseling.

Last Revised: May 3, 2013

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry

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