Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a mental health disorder
and form of abuse in which a caregiver—usually a mother—claims or causes
an illness in another person—usually her child. The caregiver may directly
hurt the person to produce symptoms or may cause the person to undergo
unnecessary medical tests or treatments that are often painful and potentially
Falsely claim the person under their care has experienced serious
symptoms, such as seizures, diarrhea, vomiting, or apnea.
Contaminate test results to make the person under their care appear
Physically harm the person under their care to produce symptoms.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy sometimes is triggered by a child
or vulnerable adult having a true illness from which the caregiver gains attention and
satisfaction. A caregiver sometimes victimizes more than one person under his or her care but not at
the same time. A person who is a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is at
increased risk for developing mental health problems and complications of
unnecessary medical treatment.
Diagnosis requires careful scrutiny and documentation by a team of
health professionals who will involve police, adult or child protection services,
and the courts. The caregiver is held legally accountable for his or her
actions and requires mental health counseling.
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry