What are Factitious Disorders?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

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.

Stomach pain is a common symptom of factitious disorders.
Stomach pain is a common symptom of factitious disorders.

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.

A patient with a factitious disorder may deliberately misrepresent his or her state of health.
A patient with a factitious disorder may deliberately misrepresent his or her state of health.

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.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


I have known people whom I know had this. There was this older lady who used to talk to my mom all the time and she was always sick with something.

My sister used to do this to a certain degree, although her actions smacked more of hypochondria. She was almost disappointed when the doctor couldn't find anything. She was convinced she had stomach cancer and I finally had enough and asked her if she was going to see every GI doc in three states until one of them said she had cancer, and would she finally be happy then. That actually kind of woke her up and she's not as bad now.


A woman from our city was recently charged with murdering her son. Her attorney said she suffers from Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. She used to say her son was sick all the time and even did things to him to make him sick.

He died in the hospital and it turns out his sodium levels were through the roof. Investigators think his mother had been giving him IV saline to make him sick so she would have an excuse to take him to the hospital and let them take care of him there. She's pretty twisted, apparently. It took a while, but the grand jury handed down an indictment, and she's in jail, waiting on her trial.

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