munchausen syndrome is now known as factitious disorder as of the release of the DSM 5. Munchausen was named after the Baron Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen, a German Cavalry Officer who was known to tell outrageous tall tales based on his military career. Those with Munchausen go from medical provider to medical provider dramatically presenting very plausible symptoms and histories of a physical illness and receiving care, up to and including hospitalization or surgery.
Patients with Munchausen Syndrome will often fake a variety of symptoms of a physical illness and manipulate laboratory tests to achieve abnormal results. Some of the tricks they use include swallowing blood then entering an emergency room and throwing up, pricking a finger and putting blood into a urine sample, and injecting insulin to drop their blood sugar. Some may go so far as to swallow foreign objects such as fishhooks or nails.
While the cause of Munchausen is unknown, it is thought that an attempt to gain sympathy may be part of the cause. Approximately 50% of those with Munchausen Syndrome are subject to drug abuse and are classified as “med seekers,” and many also have borderline personality disorder. The disorder generally starts during early adulthood, but may begin as early as childhood in some.
The disorder is closely related to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy which involves the abuse of another person, typically a child, by creating an illness through poison or some other method.