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Mental Health Center

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Munchausen Syndrome

How Common Is Munchausen Syndrome?

There are no reliable statistics regarding the number of people in the U.S. who suffer from Munchausen syndrome, but it is considered to be a rare condition. Obtaining accurate statistics is difficult because dishonesty is common with this illness. In addition, people with Munchausen syndrome tend to seek treatment at many different health care facilities, which can lead to misleading statistics.

In general, Munchausen syndrome is more common in men than in women. While it can occur in children, it most often affects young adults.

How Is Munchausen Syndrome Diagnosed?

Diagnosing Munchausen syndrome is very difficult because of, again, the dishonesty that is involved. Doctors must rule out any possible physical and mental illnesses before a diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome can be considered.

If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, or if the pattern of physical symptoms that someone describes suggests that they may be self-inflicted, then he or she will likely refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for Munchausen syndrome. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on the exclusion of actual physical or mental illness and his or her observation of the patient's attitude and behavior.

How Is Munchausen Syndrome Treated?

Although a person with Munchausen syndrome actively seeks treatment for the various disorders he or she invents, the person often is unwilling to admit to and seek treatment for the syndrome itself. This makes treating people with Munchausen syndrome very challenging, and the outlook for recovery poor.

When treatment is sought, the first goal is to modify the person's behavior and reduce his or her misuse or overuse of medical resources. Once this goal is met, treatment aims to work out any underlying psychological issues that may be causing the person's behavior. Another key goal is to help patients avoid dangerous and unnecessary medical diagnostic or treatment procedures (such as surgeries), often sought from different doctors who may be unaware that physical symptoms are either being faked or self-inflicted.

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