Munchausen syndrome by adult proxy: A review of the literature

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP), more formally known as factitious disorder imposed on another, is a form of abuse in which a caregiver deliberately produces or feigns illness in a person under his or her care so that the proxy will receive medical care that gratifies the caregiver. Although well documented in the pediatric literature, few cases of MSBP with adult proxies (MSB-AP) have been reported. This study reviews existing literature on MSB-AP to provide a framework for clinicians to recognize this disorder.

METHODS:

We searched Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid EMBASE, PubMed, Web of Knowledge, and PsychINFO, supplemented by bibliographic examination.

RESULTS:

We identified 13 cases of MSB-AP. Perpetrators were caregivers, most (62%) were women, and many worked in healthcare. The age range of the victims was 21 to 82 years. Most were unaware of the abuse, although in 2 cases the victim may have colluded with the perpetrator. Disease fabrication most often resulted from poisoning.

CONCLUSIONS:

MSB-AP should be included in the differential diagnosis of patients presenting with a complex constellation of symptoms without a unifying etiology and an overly involved caregiver with suspected psychological gain. Early identification is necessary so that healthcare providers do not unknowingly perpetuate harm through treatments that satisfy the perpetrator's psychological needs at the proxy's expense. Journal of Hospital Medicine 2015;10:32–35. © 2014 Society of Hospital Medicine

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