Munchausen syndrome by proxy

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a mental health disorder and form of child abuse in which a caregiver—usually a mother—claims or causes an illness in another person, usually her child. The caregiver may directly hurt the child to produce symptoms or may cause the child to undergo unnecessary medical tests or treatments that are often painful and potentially harmful.

A caregiver may:

  • Falsely claim a child has experienced serious symptoms, such as seizures, diarrhea, vomiting, or apnea.
  • Contaminate test results to make a child appear ill.
  • Physically harm the child to produce symptoms.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy sometimes is triggered by a child having a true illness from which the caregiver gains attention and satisfaction. A caregiver sometimes victimizes more than one child but not at the same time. A child who is a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is at increased risk for developing mental health problems and complications of unnecessary medical treatment.

Diagnosis requires careful scrutiny and documentation by a team of health professionals who will involve police, children's protective services, and the courts. The caregiver is held legally accountable for his or her actions and requires mental health counseling.

Last Updated: July 13, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics

related physicians

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.