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Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1995 Oct;4(4):229-36.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy and factitious illness: symptomatology, parent-child interaction, and psychopathology of the parents.

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Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim, Germany.


The term Munchausen syndrome by proxy is used to diagnose children presenting symptoms of an organic disorder resulting from manipulations initiated by their caretakers. Even in early infancy it happens that injuries are induced, and that drugs, poisons or medicine are administered in order to provoke and feign clinical symptoms of severe diseases. Exact data on prevalence are not available but it is obvious that Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a rare psychiatric disorder. There is a body of evidence that Munchausen syndrome by proxy is nothing but the extreme of a broader clinical entity for which the term factitious illness has been introduced. In this group children are included whose mothers invent a history of disease in order to produce symptoms without actually damaging their children. It is not well established whether such a distinction is necessary and whether there are differences in long-term outcome. Onset of symptoms is as early as three weeks up to twelve years, and mean age of diagnosis according to a more comprehensive study is 3 1/4 year. The estimated mortality rate of children with Munchausen syndrome by proxy is 9 percent. In three of the four cases of children reported here clinical presentations were dominated by symptoms of central nervous disorders. All mothers showed unsure and inconsistent parental behaviour and inefficient coping. None of them received support from their partners, if present. In interaction the children always wanted to dominate their mothers. The high amount of personality disorders observed in the caretakers might be the reason for the often reported failure of psychotherapeutic interventions.

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