Munchausen Syndrome vs Hypochondria

Written by: Tanvi Vinay Gangavali – MA
(Psychology)

Last updated date : April 21, 2022
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Many people ask about the difference between Munchausen syndrome vs hypochondria. Is Munchausen a hypochondria? Munchausen’s syndrome is a rare condition. It is a psychological issue. But it is also a behavioural condition. Munchausen’s syndrome is named after Baron Munchausen, a German aristocrat. This is when somebody tries to tell lies or make up symptoms of any illness that are not naturally present.

Munchausen’s syndrome usually has a pattern of set behaviours such as-

  • telling lies about their symptoms.
  • lying about different aspects of their life, such as their education or job.
  • trying to change tests results to tell the presence of symptoms. such as adding blood to the samples of urine.
  • In reality trying to inflict symptoms on oneself, such as adding poison or an overdose of medications.
  • taking different opinions of doctors and travelling to different hospitals.
Munchausen Syndrome vs Hypochondria

Munchausen syndrome differs from the other two types of somatic illness. It is different from hypochondria and malingering. People who have hypochondria believe that they are ill but they do not try to manipulate the test results. People who have malingering tend to pretend to have an illness to gain some sort of benefit. For example, avoiding going to work to gain compensation.

In Munchausen syndrome, people are aware and know they are making up their symptoms. They play with the situation to make up for their symptoms. They do not gain anything by doing all of this yet continue to do it. Sometimes, just to prove they have an illness they also undergo major surgeries.

Chapter 1:
Is Munchausen Syndrome Very Common?

It is difficult to answer this question. This is because they are usually secretive. And also tend to use false identities. Also, it is difficult to catch them because once their purpose is over they use new ways or identities to prove their point. The causes of this syndrome are difficult to know. This is also because most people with this syndrome do not want to seek help.

Symptoms of Munchausen Syndrome

There are many warning signs which indicate that the person may have this syndrome. There is a difference between Munchausen Syndrome vs Hypochondria. This includes:

  • Multiple and regular hospital visits in different parts of the city or even country.
  • Stating to have serious medical conditions but have no evidence for the same.
  • The symptoms do not match the test results.
  • Worsening of symptoms without any reason.
  • Having good medical knowledge or understanding.
  • When admitted to the hospital, nobody comes to meet them or they are all alone managing.
  • Ready to do painful or risky tests and procedures.
  • Getting aggressive or angry if confronted.
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Chapter 2:
Behavioural Patterns in Munchausen Syndrome

To understand the behavioural patterns, there are four main ways listed below such as:

  • Telling lies about their symptoms- they usually talk about symptoms that are hard not to believe. Such as severe headaches or stomach aches. Sometimes even having a seizure or heart attack.
  • Playing with the test results- using various ways to prove they have a symptom such as dipping the thermometer in hot tea to prove they have a fever or adding blood to the samples of urine.
  • Engaging in self-harm- harming oneself. Such as cutting or burning, overdosage on a tablet or eating stale food.
  • Worsening the symptoms- if they generally have a cut or are unwell they will find ways to make it worse.
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Chapter 3:
How to Diagnose Munchausen Syndrome?

It is hard to diagnose. This is also because the people tend to lie and also do not want to seek help. It is difficult even for medical experts to understand this condition. These people also usually play with the doctor’s concern for the patient and curiosity about understanding medical issues.

If a doctor finds, they need to make a detailed study of medical history or health records. This is also to check if there are any differences in what they tell or show and their medical history. Talking to their family or friends also helps to understand if their past medical history is true. Several medical tests can be done to understand. For example, being more alert when blood tests are being done. This is so that they cannot play with the test samples. Sometimes, people might fake illnesses for some benefit hence that also be checked.

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Chapter 4:
What Is the Best Possible Treatment Option?

It is hard to treat people with Munchausen syndrome. This is also because they do not want to accept they have a problem. Also, they will not be cooperative during the treatment. Hence, experts suggest that it is best to be gentle. Also, having a non-confrontational approach is the best. So rather than directly saying that the person is lying, it is best to gently tell them that they have many health needs and need more help. Hence, a referral to a psychiatrist is needed. With this approach also, people might deny seeking help so it is okay and we can give them enough time. There are quite a few who realise that this is a problem. They also take help. They take all the steps needed to help themselves. This also helps to keep the symptoms under control. There is no standard treatment option. A combination of various approaches works best. It is also based on the client’s needs. The most commonly used treatment option is psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Psychoanalysis is one of the oldest forms of therapy. It was developed by Sigmund Freud. He believes that the current issues usually have their roots in early childhood. This also shapes our beliefs and motivation. In therapy, the aim is to uncover and resolve these unconscious processes. CBT is also a popular form of therapy. It works on thoughts. It helps people to identify unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts and behaviours. The therapist then shows them ways in which they can change these thoughts and replace them with balanced ones. At Epsychonline, there are several courses to understand and learn about Munchausen Syndrome. You can enrol for a course online.
Reviews 4.1

Learn evidence-based scientific ways of coping with chronic fatigue

99 Lessons

3 hours

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

€9.00 €12.00

25% discount