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Munchausen Syndrome

Body Talk Magzine

What sort of person would deliberately make their child ill to gain sympathy for themselves? Obviously a very disturbed one.

An Atlanta hospital decided to videotape mothers whose children had been ill for no apparent reason. The result made chilling viewing.

Over a four year period, twenty-three mothers were filmed injecting urine into their children, swapping their medicine, and in some cases suffocating them to the point of unconsciousness. These women suffer from Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP).

Munchausen Syndrome is a condition where a person invents symptoms of an illness to get medical treatment and gain sympathy. In a lot of cases, they will even drink poison. They are different from hypochondriacs who think they are ill. MS patients actually know they are faking it.

Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy is where the person uses another person to gain sympathy - that other person is usually their children. MSBP was revealed by a UK pediatrician Dr Roy Meadow back in 1977 after he caught a mother tampering with her child's urine samples.

The actual name comes from a German soldier by the name of Karl Friedrich Munchhausen, or Baron von Munchhausen who died in 1797. In his day, the Baron told many tall tales about his war adventures against the Turks. You may remember the Terry Gilliam movie featuring Robin Williams.

A women named Kathleen Bush received wide praise for her bravery from Hillary Clinton after her daughter Jennifer spent much of her young life visiting doctors and hospitals, and eventually had a feeding tube put into her stomach and had most of her intestines taken out!

It was revealed that Bush infected and poisoned Jennifer to gain attention. Jennifer was put into foster care and apparently made a full recovery. Bush was sentenced to five years in prison for child abuse.

A young mother Yvonne Padron was jailed for a minimum 12 years after killing her 21-month old daughter. The child spent three months on life support after being suffocated.

Why do they do it? Quite often mothers have come from an emotionally deprived background. Expert on Munchausens and author of the book 'Stranger Than Fiction: When Our Minds Betray Us' Dr Marc Feldman says 'these people feign, exaggerate, or actually self-induce illnesses to assume the status of "patient," and thereby to win attention, nurturance, and lenience that they feel unable to obtain in any other way.'

It can be hard to spot MSBP because the mother is usually very loving and caring. The US Pediatric Bulletin publication says MSBP should be suspected in a child who has medical problems that do not respond to treatment or that follow an unusual course that is persistent, puzzling and unexplained.

Often the mothers are right up with the latest medical news, loves the hospital atmosphere and is calm when told of her child's illnesses. Sometimes these people seek acknowledgment for their suffering and 'bravery', as in the case of Kathleen Bush.

Many mistakes have been made too in diagnosing MSBP and some families have suffered unnecessary public humiliation. But with some experts estimating ten per cent of children die from MSBP, perhaps we can never be too vigilant.

For further information on Munchausen Syndrome, check out

Copyright Body Talk. Posted with permission.