What Is Ganser Syndrome?

Amanda Barnhart

Ganser syndrome is a dissociative disorder that was previously thought to be a factitious disorder, where the patient displays symptoms of a physical or mental illness when no real condition is present. The syndrome is very rare and primarily affects males. It was first observed in prison inmates and reported in 1898 by German psychiatrist Sigbert Ganser, after whom the syndrome is named.

Individuals with Ganser syndrome may experience confusion and hallucinations.
Individuals with Ganser syndrome may experience confusion and hallucinations.

Patients diagnosed with Ganser syndrome go through short periods of erratic behavior, which may include hallucinations, general confusion, and temporary paralysis. The most common symptom is giving approximate answers to simple questions, such as answering “five” when asked how many legs a dog has. This differs from some disorders that cause patients to respond in a completely nonsensical manner because the patient gives an answer closely related to the question, showing that he understands the type of question being asked.

Ganser syndrome was first observed in prison inmates.
Ganser syndrome was first observed in prison inmates.

Ganser syndrome patients often do not remember what they said or did during the periods of strange behavior. While an exact cause for Ganser syndrome is unknown, many psychiatrists and other mental health professionals believe it occurs as a response to extremely stressful conditions. The symptoms often resolve themselves spontaneously within a few days after the patient is removed from the triggering situation.

Specific medical treatment for Ganser syndrome is not usually necessary, though patients are monitored heavily during symptomatic periods to make sure they do not put themselves in dangerous situations. Patients often go through therapy sessions to help mental health professionals identify what triggered the onset of symptoms. Therapy also focuses on addressing any underlying issues that could have caused a situation to trigger, such as an extreme mental response, and on teaching the patient healthy stress-relieving techniques.

Ganser syndrome patients may suffer from other mental health problems, including depression and personality disorders. The syndrome does not arise from other mental disorders, but individuals with other mental health problems may be more likely to develop Ganser syndrome. Doctors often have a difficult time diagnosing patients with the syndrome due to the short nature of the symptoms and the possibility that the patient may be fabricating the symptoms to get attention or in response to a mentally or emotionally stressful situation.

Other mental and physical conditions may also be responsible for symptoms similar to those that characterize Ganser syndrome. Confusion and nonsensical answers to basic questions are often seen in patients who have suffered brain injuries, stroke, or seizures. Dementia patients may also display similar symptoms and not remember what occurred during states of confusion or hallucination.

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