Smothered With Something That Looks Like Love, But Isn't: Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
By the time Cora W. was eight years old, she took six different medicines everyday. She saw eleven different doctors to monitor her conditions. And she slept every night attached to a machine to monitor her breathing. But, when she was admitted to the hospital, doctors could not find anything wrong with her.
Cora was healthy, but she was an unfortunate victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a serious situation. But, contrary to popular belief, it is not a mental health disorder. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of physical or emotional abuse. This can prove serious or even fatal to children.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is named after Munchausen syndrome. This is a mental disorder where a person complains of fake symptoms or an illness in himself or herself to gain attention in the patient role. But, with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, the perpetrator (eg, a parent or caretaker) creates false medical problems in a child. The victims are usually preschool-age children who cannot speak up for themselves. This disorder can become dangerous because the child can be seriously injured or even killed. Perpetrators (most commonly mothers) lie, exaggerate, or even cause symptoms in the victim, usually their own child.
For example, one mother gave her daughter a substance to cause asthma attacks. Other perpetrators have given medicines that cause vomiting or seizures. These people may also willingly allow a child to undergo risky surgeries to treat false conditions. If confronted by a doctor, the perpetrators deny any wrongdoing. However, the child gets better when the perpetrator is not around.
Last reviewedJuly 2012by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.