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Factitious Disorder

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Factitious Disorder?

This condition used to be called Munchausen syndrome. Symptoms include:

  • pretending to have physical or psychological symptoms; causing the injury or disease yourself, or describing actually present symptoms as much, much worse than they really are
  • telling other people that you are ill, impaired or injured when this is not true
  • there are no obvious external reasons for this lying or self-injury behavior
  • the faking behavior is caused by another mental disorder

The condition can be a single episode or can be ongoing.

The condition can also be diagnosed as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another. This used to be called Factitious Disorder by Proxy). In this situation, a person lies about illness or injury in another person. For example, a parent might say their child is sick, or an adult child might lie about their elderly parent.

How common is Factitious Disorder?

Because of the lying and deception involved in this condition, there is not research data about how common the condition is in the general population. Estimates are that 1% of those in the hospital may have this condition.

It is typically seen in early adulthood and older people. When it is the type imposed on another, it may happen after the child or elderly parent had been hospitalized for another reason. For those that have the conditions themselves, it can be a behavior that happens off and on throughout the person's life.

How is Factitious Disorder treated?

Treatment does not focus on the symptoms that the person says they have. These symptoms are either not really there at all or are mild ones that don't require treatment. Research has found that when symptoms are treated, either another one will soon "develop" or the person will say that the treatment didn't help and want different treatments.

Instead psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), is used to help the person look at and change the thoughts that may be leading to the deceptive and faking behavior.