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Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy - Topic Overview

What are the clues that a person may have Munchausen syndrome by proxy?

Checking a child's medical records for past tests, treatments, and hospital stays may help a doctor or nurse find out if a health problem is real.

Doctors or nurses may suspect a problem when:

  • A child has a repeated or unusual illness, and no reason can be found.
  • The child doesn't get better, even with treatments that should help. Symptoms only occur when the caregiver is with or has recently been with the child. But symptoms get better or go away when the caregiver is not there or is being closely watched.
  • The other parent (usually the father) is not involved in the child's treatment, even though the child's condition may be serious.
  • A caregiver suddenly changes doctors and lies about prior testing and treatment.
  • Normal test results don't reassure the caregiver. And he or she may be strangely calm or happy when the child's condition is getting worse.
  • The caregiver is seen (or videotaped or recorded) harming the child or causing symptoms.
  • Another child in the family has had unexplained illness or death.

How is it treated?

Child protective services, law enforcement, and doctors are all involved in treatment for Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Caregivers who have this condition need long-term counseling. They may resist treatment or deny that there is a problem. Medicines are used only when the caregiver has another health problem, such as anxiety disorder, along with MSBP.

Even after treatment, caregivers may repeat their behavior. So doctors, counselors, and family members need to closely watch how the caregiver interacts with his or her children.

For victims, the first step is to protect the child by moving him or her into safe custody. Then a doctor will monitor the child for symptoms. Most of the time, the child's symptoms stop after the child is away from the caregiver. Some children need counseling or other help.

What should you do if you think someone has Munchausen syndrome by proxy?

MSBP is child abuse. If you suspect that a child is a victim, don't confront the suspected caregiver. It might make the problem worse. Instead, think about these options:

  • Keep a journal of the child's symptoms and other related events.
  • Talk with your doctor about your concerns.
  • Report your concerns to your local child welfare agency. You can make a report without using your name (anonymous).

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 03, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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