syndrome by proxy (MSBP) is a mental health problem in which a caregiver makes
up or causes an illness or injury in a child under his or her care. The
caregiver is usually a mother, and the victim is her child. Because children
are the victims, MSBP is a form of
The caregiver with MSBP
Lie about the child’s
Change test results to make a child appear to be
Physically harm the child to produce symptoms.
Victims are most often small children. They may get
painful medical tests they don't need. They may even become seriously ill or
injured or may die because of the actions of the caregiver.
Children who are victims of MSBP can have lifelong physical and emotional
problems and may have
Munchausen syndrome as adults. This is a disorder in
which a person causes or reports his or her own symptoms.
What causes Munchausen syndrome by proxy?
aren't sure what causes it, but it may be linked to problems during the
abuser's childhood. Abusers often feel like their life is out of control. They
often have poor self-esteem and can't deal with stress or anxiety.
The attention that caregivers get from having a sick child may encourage
their behavior. Caregivers may get attention not only from doctors and nurses
but also from others in their community. For example, neighbors may try to help
the family in many ways—such as by doing chores, bringing meals, or giving
How does someone with Munchausen syndrome by proxy act?
A person with MSBP often:
Has medical skills or
Seems devoted to her child.
sympathy and attention.
Tries too hard to become close and friendly
with medical staff.
Needs to feel powerful and in
Does not see her behavior as harmful.
What are the clues that a person may have Munchausen syndrome by proxy?
Checking a child's medical records for past tests, treatments, and hospital stays may help a doctor or nurse find out if a health problem is real.
Doctors or nurses may suspect a problem when:
A child has a repeated or unusual illness,
and no reason can be found.
The child doesn't get better, even with
treatments that should help. Symptoms only occur when the caregiver is with or
has recently been with the child. But symptoms get better or go away when the
caregiver is not there or is being closely watched.
parent (usually the father) is not involved in the child’s treatment, even
though the child's condition may be serious.
A caregiver suddenly
changes doctors and lies about prior testing and treatment.
test results don't reassure the caregiver. And she may be strangely calm or
happy when her child’s condition is getting worse.
The caregiver is
seen (or videotaped or recorded) harming the child or causing
Another child in the family has had unexplained illness
How is it treated?
Child protective services, law enforcement, and doctors are all involved in treatment for Munchausen
syndrome by proxy. Caregivers who have this condition need long-term
counseling. They may resist treatment or deny that
there is a problem. Medicines are used only when the caregiver has another
health problem, such as anxiety disorder, along with MSBP.
after treatment, caregivers may repeat their behavior. So doctors, counselors,
and family members need to closely watch how the caregiver interacts with her
For victims, the first step is to protect the child by
moving him or her into safe custody. Then a doctor will monitor the child for symptoms. Most
of the time, the child’s symptoms stop after the child is away from the
caregiver. Some children need counseling or other help.
What should you do if you think someone has Munchausen syndrome by proxy?
MSBP is child abuse. If you suspect that a child is a
victim, don't confront the suspected caregiver. It might make the problem
worse. Instead, think about these options:
Keep a journal of the child’s symptoms and
other related events.
Talk with your doctor about your
Report your concerns to your local child welfare agency.
You can make a report without using your name (anonymous).
The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a national
resource for people seeking information about how to prevent, identify, and
treat child abuse and neglect. The Web site has information about family
support services, fostering and adopting a child, and child welfare issues.
There are also links for many toll-free crisis hotline numbers.
Childhelp is a nonprofit agency that provides parenting
advice, child abuse prevention, and basic information about the normal growth
and development of children. Also, Childhelp provides telephone numbers
and information about how to report suspected or observed child abuse or
neglect. Hotline counselors and referrals are available. The agency also
supports abused children through abuse prevention programs, preschool programs
(including Head Start), and community outreach. Other services include
referrals to residential treatment facilities, child advocacy
centers, group homes, and foster care.
KidsHealth for Parents, Children, and
Nemours Home Office
10140 Centurion Parkway
Jacksonville, FL 32256
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and
diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website
offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing
age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can
sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
Prevent Child Abuse America
228 South Wabash Avenue, 10th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604
1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373) (312) 663-3520
This organization provides information on topics
related to child abuse and neglect. It offers various programs on child abuse
prevention, and it also directs efforts toward increasing public awareness of
child abuse and neglect. You can find out whether your state has a local
chapter by going to the website.
Johnson CF (2007). Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSBP) section of Abuse and neglect of children. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., pp. 182–184. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
McDermott BE (2008). Factitious disorder by proxy section of Factitious disorder and malingering. In RE Hales et al., eds., The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, 5th ed., pp. 649–652. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Wang DL, et al. (2009). Factitious disorder. In BJ Sadock et al., eds., Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 9th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1949–1964. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.