Munchausen syndrome is a psychiatric disorder in which those affected fake disease, illness, or psychological trauma in order to draw attention or sympathy to themselves. It is in a class of disorders known as factitious disorders which involve "illnesses" whose symptoms are either self-induced or falsified by the patient. It is also sometimes known as hospital addiction syndrome.
In many cases, a similar behavior called Munchausen syndrome by proxy has been documented in the parent or guardian of a child. The adult ensures that his or her child will experience some medical affliction, therefore compelling the child to suffer treatment for a significant portion of their youth in hospitals. Furthermore, a disease may actually be initiated in the child by the parent or guardian. Regardless of the mental health of the adult, this is a serious form of child abuse. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is considered distinct from Munchausen syndrome.
In 1951, Richard Asher was the first to describe a pattern of self-harm, where individuals fabricated histories, signs, and symptoms of illness. Remembering Baron Munchausen, Asher named this condition Munchausen's Syndrome and wrote in the British medical journal the Lancet:
"Here is described a common syndrome which most doctors have seen, but about which little has been written. Like the famous Baron von Munchausen, the persons affected have always travelled widely; and their stories, like those attributed to him, are both dramatic and untruthful. Accordingly the syndrome is respectfully dedicated to the Baron, and named after him."
Originally, this term was used for all factitious disorders. Now, however, there is considered to be a wide range of factitious disorders, and the diagnosis of "Munchausen syndrome" is reserved for the most severe form, where the simulation of disease is the central activity of the affected person's life.
Fabricated or induced illness (FII) is the formal name of a type of abuse in which a caregiver feigns or induces an illness in a person under their care, in order to attract attention, sympathy, or to fill other emotional needs. It is also known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP), due to its similarity to Munchausen syndrome, in which a person feigns or induces illness in themselves for similar emotional reasons. The syndrome was proposed in 1977 by the pediatrician Roy Meadow, and gained recognition from the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health in 2002. Nevertheless, not all medical organizations agree on the nature and extent of the syndrome; whether it actually exists and, if it does, the prevalence is a matter of dispute.
Note that many of these conditions do not have clearly observable or diagnostic symptoms.