Considered as a rare behavioral illness, Munchausen syndrome by proxy is characterized by a caregiver’s attention-seeking behavior through a child under his or her care. An individual suffering from this kind of condition tries to get attention by asking medical assistance for fabricated or overstated symptoms of the child under care.
The caretaker or mother intentionally makes the symptoms sound worse as medical providers attempt to determine the symptoms’ causes. The desire for material gain does not seem to be the reason why the patient is doing it. Because of this, the medical providers will not suspect the caretaker of harming the child and they are not able to determine the particular cause of the child’s sickness. The caregiver may seem to be very distraught over the illness, caring and loving at the same time.
Munchausen by proxy syndrome patients has many ways to exaggerate or invent the symptoms of a child. They may fake the medical records, alter tests results or lie about the symptoms. Worse, they may cause infection, starve, suffocate or poison the child in order to induce actual symptoms.
Symptoms of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
Munchausen by proxy syndrome patients share some common characteristics. These include being a caregiver or parent, being a medical professional and being overly cooperative and friendly with the medical care providers. They will also appear to be excessively worried about the child. Furthermore, these individuals may be suffering from a related illness called Munchausen syndrome.
Potential Warning Signs of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
If you are to look at these signs, it is quite easy to identify if someone is suffering from Munchausen by proxy syndrome. The child of a person with this condition may have been hospitalized numerous times with a bizarre set of symptoms. The caretaker or mother may also report an overall worsening of the symptoms even though hospital staff members are not able to observe such things.
You can spot a Munchausen by proxy syndrome patient if the test results do not match the reported symptoms and conditions of the child. There is also a patient if the family has two or more unusual death or illness of children. In another instance, a child’s symptoms may occur again upon going home although the condition of the child already improved in the hospital.
Other possible signs include the presence of chemicals in the child’s urine, stool or blood. The child’s blood may also not match the blood samples in the laboratory.
While a child is undergoing treatment, a caretaker may report a car accident, a burglary, a house fire or any other dramatic events that can impact their family. Patients may also demand transfers to other health facilities, second opinions, additional procedures, and further medical intervention. Whenever a hospital discharge is planned, the health of the caretaker’s child inexplicably deteriorates.
Causes of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
Until now, researchers have yet to determine the main cause of Munchausen by proxy syndrome. However, they are assessing the impact of psychological and biological factors on the condition’s development.
Based on certain theories, the factors include the early loss of one or two parents and a history of neglect or abuse during childhood. The condition can also be triggered by considerable stress such as marriage problems.
Diagnosis of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
It is extremely hard to diagnose people with this condition as the patient may become dishonest during the process. Before making a diagnosis, any potential sickness must be ruled out by the doctors as the symptoms’ cause.
The medical history of the caretaker or mother, the family history and the medical history of the child must be reviewed thoroughly if the symptoms have no physical cause. It is not the child who is to be diagnosed with this condition but the adult caretaker.
Treatment for Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
Before anything else, the first course of action should center on the protection and safety of the potential victims. It is important to ensure the child’s care. A team involved in these cases should include doctors, law enforcement officials, foster care organizations and a social worker.
Denying the existence of a problem is one of the major hindrances in achieving a successful treatment of Munchausen by proxy syndrome. Patients have a tendency not to tell the truth because they are having a hard time distinguishing the truth from the lies.
A form of counseling, psychotherapy is aimed at changing the behavior and thinking of the patient. Through the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the patient can determine the feelings and thoughts that are causing the behavior. Furthermore, they can also learn to create relationships free from being sick.
Outlook for Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome Victims
There are long-term and short-term complications resulting from Munchausen by proxy syndrome. These include the victim’s death, multiple hospitalizations as well as continuous abuse. Based on studies, the victims’ death rate is pegged at 10 percent. In certain cases, the victims themselves get to have Munchausen syndrome after acquiring the habit of getting attention due to sickness.
Outlook for Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome Patients
Generally, Munchausen by proxy syndrome is a very hard condition to heal and usually needs years of support and therapy. Additionally, the condition is regarded as a kind of child abuse and is punishable by law.
Additional Information About Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
Munchausen by proxy syndrome is also called factitious disorder imposed on another. The usual motives behind this kind of condition are a reassurance to themselves, sympathy and to simply draw attention. It is considered by some experts as a frequently misunderstood, potentially lethal and elusive form of medical neglect or child abuse.
Munchausen by proxy syndrome has been the subject of novels like author Gillian Flynn’s 2006 work entitled “Sharp Objects.” The novel was later on adapted into a TV mini-series.
One of the most notable cases of Munchausen by proxy syndrome involved Wendi Michelle Scott of Maryland, who was accused and charged with making her 4-year-old daughter sick.