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iLove's avatar

Have you ever had an experience with friend or relative with Munchausen Syndrome?

Asked by iLove (2339points) November 7th, 2011

Munchausen Syndrome Definition

As asked, please give details. I believe my father exaggerates his illness and refuses to take his Rx in order to gain attention.

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13 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

Your grandfather may be more of a hypochondriac and be seeking attention and sympathy by pretending to by sick all the time rather than actually having Munchausen’s. You haven’t given a lot of information or any of his history in your details.

Munchausen is a pretty severe, chronic disorder. People with true Munchausen’s generally take things quite a bit farther than merely exaggerating symptoms. They will actually infect themselves with bacteria and cause self-inflicted wounds. As your link states:

Patients with Munchausen syndrome may simulate many physical symptoms or conditions (eg, MI, hematemesis, hemoptysis, diarrhea, FUO). Their abdominal wall may be crisscrossed by scars, or a digit or a limb may have been amputated. Fevers are often due to self-inflicted injection with bacteria; Escherichia coli is often the infecting organism. These patients initially and sometimes chronically become the responsibility of medical or surgical clinics. Nevertheless, the disorder is a mental problem, is more complex than simple dishonest simulation of symptoms, and is associated with severe emotional difficulties.

Also, as your link states:

Diagnosis is based on history and examination, along with any tests necessary to exclude physical disorders. Less severe forms of factitious disorder may also involve the feigning of physical or mental symptoms (eg, depression, hallucinations, delusions, or symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder), with an apparent goal to assume the sick role. These forms are not considered Munchausen, which is more severe and chronic, with recurrent hospitalization, peregrination, and pseudologia fantastica (lying in a manner that is intriguing to the listener).

Repeated visits to doctors, emergency rooms, repeated hospitalization, those a key symptom. People with Munchausen’s don’t just or even really, want the attention of their family’s they want the attention of hospital and medical personnel.

Does you grandfather have any of those symptoms? Do you think he has ever deliberately harmed himself in order to make trip to the hospital necessary? Does he have a history of frequent, repeated trips to the emergency room or repeated hospitalizations? Repeated surgeries?

I’m not psychiatrist or psychologist and am no expert your grandfather could possibly be exaggerating his symptoms and not taking his meds for attention. That doesn’t mean he has Munchausen. Maybe he’s just getting old and he’s lonely and wants some attention and wants someone to be concerned and say things like “Grandad, you have to take your medication! We care about you and want you to be around as long as possible!”

Here’s the wiki on factitious disorders

iLove's avatar

@lillycoyote – thanks for your thorough answer!

BTW – its my father ;). For over 8 years now, my father has been in and out of the hospital. He does genuinely have kidney failure and requires dialysis. However, the last 2 years have been difficult. This last time, he had salmonella poisoning and ecoli at the same time. As a result of being in ICU for several days, he “forgot” how to walk. So he stayed in a nursing facility until he was able to walk again.

When I have visited him, he is up all night, hollering and crying about pain but he refuses to take medication because he is “scared”. He calls me 2 and 3 times a day. I am 800+ miles away in Florida, and he asks me to come visit all the time. I have been there 4 times in the past year and I have a 5 year old and it is just starting to wear on me.

Top this off with his religious views – for instance, last time I was there, my half-sister and I were trying to comfort him during one of his “spells” and he started crying that God was punishing him. We tried to gently tell him this was not the case, and he said we were being hostile towards him.

My stepmother has indicated also that when he is in pain, he calls lots of people to tell them. I don’t understand the need to get attention for this, or to constantly bring his pain up to other people.

I am not sure if “Munchausen” is the correct term for this condition, but I would love more insight.

lillycoyote's avatar


As I said, I’m not psychiatrist or psychologist nor any expert of any kind, but unless you have some reason to suspect he infected himself with salmonella and ecoli, then it probably isn’t Munchausens. He is chronically ill with pretty serious kidney disease, serious enough that he requires dialysis. That kind of chronic illness, particularly kidney disease, when you are tied to that machine for long periods of time just in order to stay alive, certainly can wear on a person and can cause frustration, resentment and depression, and if he has gotten to that point in his illness, he seems to be taking a lot of it out on his family.

Is he a candidate for a transplant? If so, has he been waiting a long time? Has he ever been close to getting a kidney and have it not work out. Does that even happen? I don’t really know.

It sounds like he needs or certainly could benefit from some kind of psychiatric or psychological intervention, some professional mental health support to deal with whatever he’s going through. Do you think he would he be willing to do that? Can you talk to his doctors and let them know what’s going on with him? That whatever is going on is interfering with his ability to take care of himself properly, he won’t take his medication, and that it is causing some strain on the family and that you are just trying to find a way to help him? They might be able to intervene or provide support. I would also think that the facility where he gets his dialysis would be able to hook you up with someone, or some kind of support group for him.

The big problem is that some people aren’t willing to acknowledge that they need that kind of help and support, or accept it when it’s available and offered to them. If he won’t agree to get some kind of support or counseling, I’m not sure what else you can do. I’m sorry that your family is having to go through this.

And sorry about the father/grandfather mix up. I seem to be doing that lately. @ANef_is_Enuf recently had point out to me on her thread that the question was about her grandmother’s cat not her mom’s cat. I’m becoming either senile or illiterate; possibly both. :-)

chyna's avatar

You need to remember he is sick, in pain and confused. Maybe the pain medicine makes him more confused or out of it and he doesn’t like the way they make him feel. When an older person is sick, they do call upon their relatives, trying to draw them close because that’s all they have. It’s not meant to be a burden to you, but just his reaching out to you.

bkcunningham's avatar

The Mom was in renal failure for five years before she died. The very first thing her nephrologist talked to her about was getting started on an antidepressant. She didn’t take one, but I discussed with him why. He said it is very common for people in endstages of life, which renal failure patients are, to become depressed.

Another thing to consider is how swings in potassium levels can affect his behavior and moods when you speak to him on the phone. People with renal failure must monitor their potassium very closely. It can cause confusion, which in turn made my mom very defensive. After several years of this pattern, she was scared.

I really can’t imagine how hard it would have been to have been so far away from my mother during this time in her life. It must be very difficult for you, @iLove. You don’t have to fix everything for him. Sometimes I’m sure he just wants to complain and for someone to listen. When you are going through what he is at this time in his life you don’t really have any control.

Not only is his life dictated by three days a week of dialysis for at least three hours a day, he has to restrict his fluid intake to what, 13 oz or so a day. I can’t imagine. Not counting his additional restrictions on his diet. It wore my mom out physically. She ended up in a wheelchair and was exhausted, feedup and tired from trying her best to be upbeat through countless surgeries on her fistula and other health problems brought on by kidney failure.

Take it easy on yourself when you talk to him and just listen and give him words of comfort and understanding. Be good to yourself too.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

No, not truly. What I have experienced is family members spending so much time on webmd that they begin to suspect they have all sorts of odds & ends.

To me, it sounds like your father is depressed enough to use whatever he can to gain attention.

perspicacious's avatar

I don’t think your father’s behavior rises to the level of Munchausen.

JLeslie's avatar

It sounds like your father is very sick and miserable. He may be having side effects from medications. He probably has been given medications that had awful side effects and now he is a little paranoid. He sounds like an extreme case of many many people who have chronic illnesses, and then have additional painful or accute illness added on for a time. People with chronic illness have a very difficult time feeling sicker temporarily, it is not the same as when a normally healthy person gets food poisoning for instance. People already dealt a shitty deal regarding their health can’t stand to think they will have to suffer with one more thing.

He may need psychological help, but he may be very reluctant to accepting it, or being diagnosed as paranoid or depressed, because he knows, or believes, it stems from his physical illness, or his interactions with doctors or people relating to the illness. I went through many years of chronic pain and the doctors and insurance company caused me more mental stress than the illness itself, and many of the comments my family made really pissed me off. When they tried to help with advice about pain management, and how to handle doctors I often hated them. I did wind up going to a few therapists, the first two were horrendous, the last one helped me a lot.

You say he has the religious stuff mixed in. Is he actually very religious, or is he just saying God is punishing him as an expression? We use that expression in my family and we are all atheists.

Try to be patient and understanding. If he is willing, have him join a group of chronic pain suffers or dialysis patients. Honestly, people who have not suffered with chronic illness or pain have no clue generally what it is like.

cazzie's avatar

Is there a name for the disease where when you are really sick, your partner/wife/husband pretends to suddenly get really sick too, so they don’t have to help you?

In my house I call it the ‘I’m sicker than you’ game.

Mariah's avatar

Severe illness makes you think irrationally. It affects you more than you can guess if you haven’t been there yourself. I would give your dad the benefit of the doubt. I am sorry you’re going through this, but to me it seems perfectly plausible that his behavior is legit.

iLove's avatar

Thanks for all your answers. I failed to bring up my history with my father, which I touched on here

I just don’t know to what extent I should worry, when it has been going on for so many years.

I am a very loving person, and I love him no matter what – but I can’t help but feel that in some way, much like my past, there is some element of manipulation.

Thanks for all your answers.

JLeslie's avatar

I just read your previous question, that does supply a lot of background. I think you get what you give, and he has put in place a dynamic of people are not going to be very tolerant and empathetic to him, because he does not do it for others. It is perfectly understandable that you don’t want to deal with his complaints and neediness. It is also understandable out of loyalty and love, you still feel compelled to help and worry about his health both psychological and physical. I actually recommend you get a therapists or some great friends you can vent all these feelings too, and sort through them. You need to decide what you are willing to do that will help you feel good, satisfied you did what in your mind your obligation is as a daughter in your particular situation. How much you can sacrifice your well being to help the family. Since it seems he is dying, I assume this is the last months of having to tolerate what might be psychological abuse for you. Take it in small doses if you continue to spend time with him.

The religion part, well, he has lived as a religious God fearing man I would guess if he is Southern Baptist, and so if he is now recognizing he has done things in his life that has hurt others he probably is terrified of dying. A friend of mine’s grandfather, he was an asshole a lotof his life. Alcoholic, bad temper, I am not sure all the negative things he did. As he lie in agony from his lung cancer he spoke of being terrified to die, not the way most people fear the unknown of death and are saddened by leaving life, but in the way that God would not be forgiving of him. It was very difficult to watch for his family, his fear, and how his religious beliefs were not comforting, but the opposite.

Mariah's avatar

@iLove Oh goodness, thank you for sharing your background. I feel bad about my knee-jerk defense of your father now. I understand why you would harbor ill feelings towards your father, and I think you’re 100% justified in feeling that way, but I think that may be spilling over into your perception of him and his behavior now. I would suggest you try and compartmentalize your feelings towards him a bit. He made major mistakes in his past but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily being intentionally difficult or attention-seeking now. This is a very sad and difficult situation. I feel for you.

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