by McCoy K

Factitious Disorder

(Munchausen Syndrome)


Factitious disorder is a mental illness in which a person makes up an illness or injury. A person with factitious disorder may claim to have the psychological symptoms of a mental illness or the physical symptoms of a medical illness. The term Munchausen syndrome is sometimes used to refer to factitious disorder with severe physical symptoms.
In addition, factitious disorder by proxy (or Munchausen syndrome by proxy) falls into this category. Factitious disorder by proxy involves a parent claiming their child has psychological or physical symptoms in order to get needless medical attention for the child.
Factitious disorder may be confused with another type of mental disorder called somatoform disorder. If a person has this disorder, then they are not pretending to be sick. The person really believes that there is something physically wrong. However, the symptoms are actually due to psychological issues.
Factitious disorder is also different from malingering, which occurs when a person pretends to be sick for some kind of clear benefit, such as money, food, or housing.
Man gurney physician
People with factitious disorder seek unnecessary medical treatment.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The exact cause of factitious disorder not known. However, it may be a mixture of biological and psychological factors. Some possible causes may include:
  • Having frequent illnesses early in life
  • Being abused or rejected by a parent
  • Identifying with someone who had an illness

Risk Factors

Factitious disorder is more common in people who are young or middle-aged.
Factors that may increase your risk of factitious disorder include:


Symptoms may include:
  • A lengthy, conflicting medical history
  • Vague symptoms that did not respond to treatment
  • A illness that returns after it is controlled
  • Strong knowledge of hospitals and medical terms
  • Multiple surgical scars
  • New symptoms that appear after test results come back negative
  • A medical history at many hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices
  • Blocking contact between previous and current doctors, and between doctors and family members
  • Symptoms that appear only when person is not being observed
  • Demanding medical tests or procedures
  • Eagerness to have medical tests or procedures
  • Self-inflicted or artificial symptoms of disease


It is difficult for a doctor to diagnosis a factitious disorder. People who have this disorder become skillful in pretending to have illnesses. The doctor also has to rule out any real physical condition that the person may have.
If the doctor determines that there is no physical cause for the symptoms, then the person may be referred to a mental health expert. This expert can then rule out other psychological conditions, like somatoform disorder and malingering. The person may become hostile and not want to work with a psychologist. However, there are strategies that the doctor can use to act in a way that is more supportive and helpful. The person can be encouraged to seek mental health treatment.


Factitious disorder is difficult to treat. The person may resist getting help. In some cases, the person may agree to work with a mental health expert. Psychotherapy or behavior therapy may be helpful. If the person has any other conditions, like depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems, these can be treated as well.


There are no current guidelines to prevent factitious disorder.


American Psychiatric Association
American Psychological Association


Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association


Factitious disorder. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated November 30, 2015. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Factitious disorders. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: Updated June 11, 2013. Accessed October 13, 2015.
Huffman JC, Stern TA. The diagnosis and treatment of Munchausen syndrome. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2003;25(5):358-363.
Munchausen's syndrome. Patient UK website. Available at: Updated November 24, 2014. Accessed October 13, 2015.
Somatic symptom and related disorders. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated August 2015. Accessed October 15, 2015.

Revision Information

Health Library Search

Only show results from the selected categories.

Dependent personality disorder is characterized by dependent and submissive behavior. The person often defers the majority or all decision-making to someone else. People ...

Schizotypal personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by odd behaviors, beliefs, thoughts, and difficulties in social situations. People with personali...

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder characterized by excessive perfectionism and a need for control over one's environment. People ...

A person with a passive-aggressive behavior pattern may appear to comply or act appropriately, but actually behaves negatively and passively resists. In the American Psyc...

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder. People with BPD may often have dramatic, emotional, erratic, and attention-seeking moods. This behavior...

Antisocial personality disorder is a psychiatric condition that causes an ongoing pattern of manipulating others and violating their rights. People with this disorder do ...

Rechecking the door lock several times; washing hands every 5 minutes; hoarding useless things; refusing to delegate jobs for fear that they will be done wrong—each of th...

9 Personality Disorders: An Overview lifestyle - mental health

Sure, you organize everything including your sock drawer, but does that mean you have obsessive compulsive personality disorder? Read on to find out about this disorder a...

11 Understanding Cyclothymia lifestyle - mental health

People with cyclothymia suffer from a roller coaster of emotions. Read here to find out more about this troubling disorder....

Read here to find out more about OCD, and what you can do if you suspect you or someone close to you has this condition....

13 Dysthymia condition

Dysthymia is a mild-to-moderate, but chronic depression lasts for 2 years or longer....