Factitious Disorder

(Also Known As: Factishus Disorder, Munchausen Syndrome, Somatoform Disorder, Factitious, Malingering)

(Reviewed by: Paul Peterson, Licensed Therapist)

What is Factitious Disorder?

Factious disorder is a psychological disorder that involves the deliberate intention of a person to feign, fake, falsify, and exaggerate their symptoms of illness in order to assume the role of being sick. Another form of factitious disorder, called factitious by proxy, is presented by a person where there is the same deliberate intention of exaggerating and feigning the symptoms of the person who is under their care. The chronic and severe form of factitious disorder is named Munchausen’s Syndrome. Individuals who belong to the category of Munchausen syndrome go to the extent of contaminating urine samples, injecting themselves with bacteria in order to become infected, and taking hallucinogen. 1 Another related disorder is the somatoform disorder, which is characterized by multiple somatic complaints where the person has physical symptoms that cannot be full explained by any underlying illness or disorder. The main difference of somatoform disorder from factitious disorder is the fact that the person is not faking their symptoms and the person strongly believes that they have serious physical problems.

There are many ways by which a person with factitious disorder fakes their symptoms. They would often tell a lie, fake their symptoms, alter any tests, and would even hurt themselves in order to produce a symptom as well as to the people who are under their care. Those with this type of mental disorder behave in this manner not with any underlying motive of obtaining something such as financial gain, but rather they feel the need to be seen as ill or injured as an attention seeking means. Factitious individuals are willing to risk undergoing surgery, tests, or operations in order to obtain sympathy from others.

Factitious disorder is considered to be a mental illness associated with severe emotional difficulties. Unlike malingering, where a malingerer feigns their symptoms in order to obtain a specific gain, people with factitious disorder have the great need of sympathy, nurturance, and attention. Most individuals with factitious disorder have an associated personality disorder of some form with a long standing pattern of behaviors that is otherwise taken by the society as normal.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) recognizes the types of factitious disorders: 2

  • Factitious disorder with predominant psychological signs and symptoms.

This involves disorders that mimic the behavior of a mental illness such as schizophrenia. Ganser syndrome is a form of factitious disorder that was first observed in prison which involves making absurd statements, appearing confused and experiencing things that are not there. 3

  • Factitious disorder with predominant physical signs and symptoms.

People with this form of disorder usually present physical symptoms of illness such as chest pain, fever and infections and is called Munchausen syndrome.

  • Factitious disorder with combined psychological and physical signs and symptoms.

This includes the factitious disorder by proxy or Munchausen syndrome by proxy where one fabricates the symptoms of illness of another person who are under their care.

Females are known to be more prone to manifest factitious disorder symptom and they come from the medical field such as nursing and medical technology, since they are more knowledgeable on how to artificially produce the clinical symptoms of a disease with available access to do so. Unmarried men however are more prone to manifest Munchausen syndrome and most likely to be estranged from their families. Munchausen’s by proxy is more typical from mothers who induce an illness in their children, although anyone can be responsible for the act. Factitious disorder becomes more prevalent in women between 20 and 40 years old while, Munchausen syndrome occurs in middle age men.

Could You Have Factitious Disorder?

Factitious Disorder Topics

Related Conditions

Adjustment Disorder – psychological response to identified stressors, anxiousness, depression, stress disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder – distorted behavior, self image and personality, mood disorder, dissociation
Dissociative Identity Disorder – multiple distinct personalities/identities, alter egos, memory loss, depression, de-realization, amnesia, phobias, anxiety
Dysthymic Disorder – chronic mood disorder, anxiety, depression, drug addiction, alcoholism
Malingering – fabricated symptoms for possible external gains, exaggerated symptoms, feigning symptoms of an illness
Munchausen Syndrome – feigning of symptoms and illnesses, malingering to draw sympathy from others
Narcissistic Personality Disorder – self centered, attention seeking, ego, self loved, conceit