A factitious disorder is an emotional disorder in which an individual deliberately misrepresents his or her current state of health. Often, this misrepresentation takes the form of exaggerating symptoms associated with a real illness or pretending to have symptoms that point toward a specific ailment. Factitious disorders are not the same as hypochondria, a condition in which the individual honestly believes he or she is ill.
There are a number of reasons why someone would develop a factitious disorder. One common situation is known as factitious disorder by proxy. With a proxy situation, the individual takes on the symptoms of a friend or relative, either as a way to identify with the acquaintance or as a means of competing for attention. In fact, a bid to get attention is just about always an underlying factor with disorders of this type.
Common factitious disorder symptoms include a wide array of day-to-day complaints, such as fatigue, headaches, stomach pain, and nervousness. Factitious disorders that manifest themselves with these types of everyday aches and pains are often helpful in avoiding social situations or obligations that the individual does not enjoy for one reason or another. Generally, these ailments quickly fade when the individual is presented with an activity he or she would enjoy.
Munchausen syndrome is often considered to be the same as a factitious disorder. However, Munchausen syndrome is usually reserved for extreme examples of factitious disorders. This would include situations where the individual goes to great lengths to either fake an illness or actually induce illness in order to gain attention and sympathy. Examples of extreme factitious disorders would include actions such as taking medication to induce a hallucinogenic state, contaminating blood or urine samples, or deliberate exposure to bacteria in order to trigger an infection.
Factitious disorder malingering usually occurs when faking or deliberately inducing illnesses leads to defrauding others, either emotionally or financially. A malingerer would fake illness in order to receive some sort of monetary compensation, either from a government agency or a private source. Typically, there is some sense of entitlement present, in that the individual feels that he or she deserves the benefits even if they were not earned honestly.
Effective factitious disorder treatment usually involves identifying and addressing the underlying motivations for faking illness. Often, there is a mixture of negative emotions that lead to the development of factitious disorders, including feelings of inadequacy, anger, depression, and alienation. With proper psychological care, it is often possible to achieve complete recovery from a factitious disorder even if the condition has been in place for a number of years. In some cases, medication for depression and anxiety may be used in conjunction with the therapy to restore the individual to a healthy emotional state.