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[Factitious disorder and factitious disorder by proxy].

[Article in German]

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Zentrum für Kinderheilkunde der Universität Bonn.


Similar to the adult patient, a child or adolescent may actively feign or produce artificial symptoms (synonymous: Munchausen syndrome). The more frequent case is that the child suffers from being an object of symptom fabrication induced by a close person caring for the child, regularly the mother (Munchausen syndrome by proxy). This review focuses on psychopathological aspects of the clinically more relevant factitious disorder by proxy. Typical behaviour and personality characteristics are presented that can be taken as clinical warning signs. Doctor-mother-interaction is affectively challenging due to conflicting tasks imposed on the physician. Complementary to pediatric exclusion of genuine disease, psychopathological assessment is required to exclude other sources of deviant illness behaviour. Factious disorder shares particular features (active violation of the child, false report of history, aggravated symptom presentation and increased doctor-hopping, difficulties in conforming maternal report in biomedical data) with other psychopathological entities (child abuse, simulation, dissociative disorders, somatoform disorders including hypochondria, variants of maternal overprotection and infantilization, psychosis or delusion in the mother). Criteria for differentiation are presented. Three concepts on the psychopathological etiology of factitious disorder by proxy are relevant: In some cases, it may be conceived as secondary manifestation of a primary psychopathological entity or personality disorder. Learning theory emphasises operant rewards received from vicarious sick role. Attachment theory provides possible explanations concerning the traumatic impact on the child, early sources of psychopathology in the fabricating mother and risks for intergenerational transmission of factitious disorders.

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