Early recognition and management of fabricated or induced illness in children.


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Abstract

Fabricated or induced illness (previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy) takes place when a caregiver elicits health care on the child's behalf in an unjustified way. Although the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders specifies deception as a perpetrator characteristic, a far wider range is encountered clinically and is included in this Review. We describe the features of fabricated or induced illness, its effect on the child, and the psychosocial characteristics of caregivers and their possible motives. Present evidence suggests that somatoform and factitious disorders are over-represented in caregivers, with possible intergenerational transmission of abnormal illness behaviour from the caregiver to the child. Paediatricians' early recognition of perplexing presentations preceding fabricated or induced illness and their management might obviate the development of this disorder. In cases of fully developed fabricated or induced illness, as well as protection, the child will need help to return to healthy functioning and understand the fabricated or induced illness experience. Management of the perpetrator is largely dependent on their capacity to acknowledge the abusive behaviour and collaborate with helping agencies. If separation is necessary, reunification of mother and child is rare, but can be achieved in selected cases. More collaborative research is needed in this specialty, especially regarding close study of the characteristics of women with somatoform and factitious disorders who involve their children in abnormal illness behaviour. We recommend that general hospitals establish proactive networks including multidisciplinary cooperation between designated staff from both paediatric and adult mental health services.

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