Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Mental Health Center

Font Size

Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) -- or Munchausen by proxy -- is a psychological disorder marked by attention-seeking behavior by a caregiver through those who are in their care.

MSP is a relatively rare behavioral disorder. It affects a primary caretaker, often the mother. The person with MSP gains attention by seeking medical help for exaggerated or made-up symptoms of a child in his or her care. As health care providers strive to identify what's causing the child's symptoms, the deliberate actions of the mother or caretaker can often make the symptoms worse.

Recommended Related to Mental Health

Road Rage: What It Is, How to Avoid It

A year ago, according to news reports, Corrine Leclair-Holler, then 29, was talking on her cellphone while driving in Concord, N.H. Another driver, Carissa Williams, then 23, yelled at her, then pulled ahead. When she reached a freeway on-ramp, Williams stopped her car, got out (leaving her own baby in the car), climbed into Leclair-Holler's car, and shot her with a stun gun -- despite Leclair-Holler's cries that she was pregnant. Leclair-Holler and her baby were fine. Williams was convicted of...

Read the Road Rage: What It Is, How to Avoid It article > >

The person with MSP does not seem to be motivated by a desire for any type of material gain. While health care providers are often unable to identify the specific cause of the child's illness, they may not suspect the mother or caretaker of doing anything to harm the child. In fact the caregiver often appears to be very loving and caring and extremely distraught over her child's illness.

People with MSP may create or exaggerate a child's symptoms in several ways. They may simply lie about symptoms, alter tests (such as contaminating a urine sample), falsify medical records, or they may actually induce symptoms through various means, such as poisoning, suffocating, starving, and causing infection.

What Are the Symptoms of Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy?

Certain characteristics are common in a person with MSP, including:

  • Is a parent or caregiver, usually a mother
  • May be a health care professional
  • Is very friendly and cooperative with the health care providers
  • Appears quite concerned (some may seem overly concerned) about their child
  • May suffer from Munchausen syndrome (a related disorder in which a person repeatedly acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick)

Other possible warning signs of MSP include:

  • The child has a history of many hospitalizations, often with a strange set of symptoms.
  • Worsening of the child's symptoms generally is reported by the mother and is not witnessed by the hospital staff.
  • The child's reported condition and symptoms do not agree with the results of tests.
  • There may be more than one unusual illness or death of children in the family.
  • The child's condition improves in the hospital, but symptoms recur when the child returns home.
  • Blood in lab samples may not match the blood of the child.
  • There may be signs of chemicals in the child's blood, stool, or urine.

What Causes Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy?

The exact cause of MSP is not known, but researchers are looking at the roles of biological and psychological factors in its development. Some theories suggest that a history of abuse or neglect as a child, or the early loss of a parent may be factors in its development. Some evidence suggests that major stress, such as marital problems, can trigger MSP.

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

Hands breaking pencil in frustration
Quiz
Woman looking out window
Article
 
woman standing behind curtains
Article
Pet scan depression
Slideshow
 
Woman standing in grass field barefoot, wind blowi
Article
Plate of half eaten cakes
Article
 
Phobias
Slideshow
mother kissing newborn
Slideshow
 
Woman multitasking
Article
thumbnail_tired_woman_yawning
Article
 
colored pencils
VIDEO
Woman relaxing with a dog
Feature
 

WebMD Special Sections