Factitious Disorder
Photo by Cristian Newman

Factitious disorder is a severe mental illness in which a person deceives others by pretending to be sick, getting sick on purpose, or injuring themselves. Family members or caregivers may also trigger factitious disorder by falsely portraying others, such as infants, as sick, disabled, or damaged.

Symptoms of the factitious disorder can vary from mild (slight exaggeration of symptoms) to serious (complete exaggeration of symptoms) (previously called Munchausen syndrome). To persuade others that care, such as high-risk surgery, is needed, the individual can fabricate symptoms or even tamper with medical tests.

Inventing medical disorders to get out of work or win a case is not the same as factitious illness. While people with factitious disorder are aware that they are the source of their symptoms or illnesses, they do not understand why they behave in the way they do or realize that they have a problem.

This condition might present serious challenges concerning treatment and mitigation. However, medical and psychological assistance is essential for avoiding serious injury and even death from self-harm, which is a common consequence and symptom of the disorder.

Symptoms of the fictitious disease include imitating or developing illness or injury, as well as exaggerating symptoms or weakness to mislead others. Since people with the condition go to great lengths to conceal their deceit, it may be difficult to discern that their symptoms are clear signs of a severe mental health problem. They continue to deceive even though they receive no tangible advantage or compensation, even when confronted with empirical proof that contradicts their statements.

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Symptoms of Factitious Disorder

Signs and symptoms of this condition can include:

  • Health terminology and illnesses are well-understood by the patient;
  • Symptoms that are vague or contradictory;
  • Conditions that deteriorate without apparent cause;
  • Conditions that don’t respond to standard treatments as intended;
  • Getting care from a variety of doctors or hospitals, possibly under a false name;
  • Reluctance to encourage doctors to speak with family members or friends, as well as other health care providers;
  • Hospitalizations regularly;
  • a desire to conduct regular tests or dangerous operations;
  • Numerous surgical scars or signs of multiple operations;
  • When in the hospital, there isn’t usually an abundance of visitors;
  • Getting into frequent confrontations with doctors and staff.

Possible Causes of Factitious Disorder

The exact set of causes that contribute to factitious disorder is unknown, but researchers have good reason to believe that it is caused by a wide range of biological and psychological factors. Some theories indicate that a history of childhood abuse or neglect, as well as a history of frequent illnesses in themselves or family members that necessitated hospitalization, may be factored in the disorder’s growth.

The majority of patients with the factitious disorder have a history of violence, trauma, family discord, social alienation, early chronic medical diagnosis, or healthcare experience (training in nursing, health aid work, etc.).

Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another

When someone falsely believes that another person has physical or psychological signs or symptoms of illness, or induces damage or disease in another person with the intent of deceiving others, this is known as factitious disorder forced on another (previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy).

People who suffer from this condition portray another individual as ill, disabled, or incapable of functioning, implying that medical help is needed. This usually involves a parent abusing their child. This act of abuse puts a child in grave danger of harm or needless medical treatment.

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How does this disorder play out in the real world?

Since people with factitious conditions become experts at faking symptoms and diseases or causing real injuries to themselves, it can be difficult for health care providers and loved ones to tell whether or not illnesses are real.

People who suffer from factitious disorder can fabricate symptoms or cause illnesses in a variety of ways, including:

  • Existing symptoms are being exaggerated. Even if they have a legitimate medical or psychological disorder, they can exaggerate symptoms to make themselves appear sicker or less capable than they are.
  • Making up lies from the past. They can lie about their medical history to loved ones, health care providers, or support groups, such as pretending to have had cancer or AIDS. They can even falsify medical reports to make it appear as if they are sick.
  • Making up symptoms. They could pretend to have stomach pain, seizures, or pass out.
  • Self-harm is a type of self-harm. They can make themselves ill by injecting bacteria, milk, oil, or feces, for example. They can hurt themselves, cut themselves, or burn themselves. To imitate diseases, they can take medications such as blood thinners or diabetes medications. They may also obstruct wound healing by causing wounds to reopen or infect.
  • Attempting to deceive. They can manipulate medical instruments, such as thermometers, to skew results. Alternatively, they may tamper with lab tests by contaminating urine samples with blood or other substances.

How to seek medical assistance?

People with factitious disorder may be aware of the dangers of self-harm or the care they need, but they lack control over their actions and are reluctant to seek help. And when faced with objective evidence such as a videotape that they are the cause of their condition, they still deny it and refuse medical treatment.

If you suspect a loved one is exaggerating or fabricating health issues, try having a gentle talk with them about your concerns. Avoid being angry, judgmental, or confrontational. Instead of dwelling on unhealthy attitudes and habits, aim to reinforce and support more positive, constructive practices. Provide guidance and compassion, as well as, if necessary, assistance in locating care.

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Risk Factors associated with Factitious Disorder

The factitious disorder can be triggered by several causes, including:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse as a child may cause trauma;
  • A debilitating illness that struck you as a child;
  • The death, sickness, or alienation of a loved one;
  • Previous encounters of illness and the attention that it drew;
  • A lack of self-esteem or a weak sense of self-identity;
  • Psychiatric conditions;
  • Depression is a mental illness that affects;
  • Desire to work with physicians or medical facilities;
  • Working in the medical sector.

Potential Complications

People who suffer from factitious illness are willing to put their life on the line to be labeled as sick. They suffer from other mental illnesses as well. As a result, they can face a variety of issues, including:

  • Self-inflicted medical problems cause injury or death;
  • Infections, needless surgery, or other procedures that cause serious health problems;
  • Unnecessary surgery results in the loss of organs or limbs;
  • Abuse of alcohol or other substances;
  • Major issues in everyday life, relationships, and work;
  • When one person’s conduct is inflicted on another, it is abuse by definition.

FAQs

Ques. What is factitious disorder?
Ans. It is a mental health condition where a person is prone to fake or deceive illness, sickness, injury, or discomfort along medical lines compulsively and pathologically. Such individuals need people around them to believe that they are genuinely in distress and need medical attention.

Ques. What do I do if I suspect that someone I know has the disorder?
Ans. Since by its very nature factitious disorder is a condition in which a person will at all and any costs insist on the authenticity of his, her or their illness or injury, trying to have a reasonable conversation with them on the matter might be counterproductive since it might move them to indulge in serious self-harm as a desperate attempt to convince others of the legitimacy of their condition.

The best way to go about it would be to get in touch with their loved ones and reasonable authorities, crisis resources, and competent people about the matter.

Ques. Am I at risk for this condition?
Ans. It is extremely rare and uncommon.

Ques. What is the line of diagnosis and treatment in such cases?
Ans.
As a first measure, any physical causes and medical conditions must be eliminated. This might be tricky since the patient might have some overlapping or coinciding symptoms and conditions which are being exaggerated. The baseline is to be patient, honest, and critically approach the matter.

Psychological assistance, therapy, and regular sessions can mitigate it. The key is to make the patient understand and recognize their condition and find the strength and support to gradually resist it.

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