Most people are aware of Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They may even know a little about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or a number of other mental health issues that their friends, neighbors and colleagues suffer with on a daily basis. But few have ever heard of Factitious Disorder. Uncommon among the general population, Factitious disorder, is not only unknown to most, it is rare, making it difficult to diagnosis. Those living with Factitious disorder have a serious mental handicap that can make it hard to function in daily life. By understand Factitious disorder you can help to support those who might have it through understanding and acknowledgement.
What Is Factitious Disorder?
The Factitious Disorder definition in very long and can be difficult for those who are not medical experts to understand. The definition of Factitious Disorder (in layman’s terms) is this: a mental disorder in which an individual acts as if they have a certain disorder or illness. There are several types of Factitious Disorder including Munchausen Disorder and Factitious Disorder by proxy.
In the DSM (also known as the “Psychologists Bible”) defines this disorder as: “Intentional production or feigning of physical or psychological signs or symptoms. Motivation for the behavior is to assume a sick role.”
In short, those with Factitious Disorders (of any type) are going to pretend that they are sick in order to gain sympathy or attention. Unlike the hypochondriac, who believe they have the disease in question, those with Factitious Disorder are truly faking their condition.
Factitious Disorder Symptoms
Factitious Disorder itself does not have what many would consider “symptoms.” Instead, they are behaviors that will let others know that the illness a person seems to have, may be fake and are a result of Factitious Disorder. Some of these behaviors include:
- Inconsistent Medical History
- Symptoms that Change After Treatment of An Illness has Begun
- Emergence of New or Worsening Symptoms After Getting Negative Test Results
- Seeks Help From Many Different Hospitals, Treatment Centers, and Clinics
- Does Not Allow Current Healthcare Providers to Contact Previous Healthcare Providers
- Dramatic Medical History
- Predictable Relapses of Illness; often after Treatment or Improvement
- Eager to Have Many Tests or Surgeries Preformed
- Symptoms of Illness Only Occur When the Person Is Not Being Watched
- Extensive Knowledge of Medical Terminology and an Expert Understanding of Tests and Surgical Procedures
All of these can be signs that a person is not suffering from the illness or disorder that they claim to be suffering from. Instead, these behaviors suggest that they could be suffering from a type of Factitious Disorder. Other more severe behaviors that might suggest a person is suffering from this disorder may include:
- Using Hallucinogens to Achieve Desired Symptoms
- Cause Themselves to Develop Urinary Infections
- Self Harm
- Abuse of Illegal Substances
- Abuse of Prescription Medication
Types of Factitious Disorders
There are two main types of Factitious Disorders that a person can be diagnosed with. The first is known as Munchausen Disorder. This is when a person deliberately fakes an illness or other type of metal disorder. The reason is often because the person in seeking some sort of attention they have not been receiving. Sometimes, a person may fake symptoms in order to receive certain prescription drugs. Sometimes, a person starts by knowing they are faking but ends up in a delusion where they believe they really are sick.
The second type is what used to be called Factitious Disorder by Proxy. With the new release of the DSM V it is now referred to as Factitious Disorder imposed on another. This is the type that is extremely dangerous when the person suffering has children or other people they are in charge of. With this type the person pushes their delusion of sickness onto another person. They try to fabricate symptoms in their proxy and oftentimes this results in harm coming to the Proxy. This type is mostly found in mothers and it can cause them to accidently hurt their child in order to receive attention.
Although there is no definitive cause of the disorder that is known; researchers do know that a mix of biological and psychological factors can contribute to Factitious Disorder. Some researchers suggest that it can appear after a long history of neglect or abuse as a child, as this disorder appears mostly in adults. Some suggest that a cause may even be pregnancy when it appears in mothers. Others suggest that if a child had to watch a parents, grandparent, or sibling go in and out of the hospital with an illness that as an adult they could develop this disorder to claim the attention they didn’t get as a child. Another possible cause is constant hospitalization and attention as a child might fade once a person reaches adulthood, and wanting that type of attention again, they begin to fake being sick. However, there is very limited research being done on Factitious Disorder so not much is known about how correct these suggestions may be.
Factitious Disorder Treatment
In order to treat a person who has Factitious Disorder, there must be a complete shift in their frame of mind. The main way that this is accomplished is through Psychotherapy. With this type of therapy a person can shift their frame of mind through:
- Developing a relationship with a therapist
- Possibly remove Potential Proxies For Safety Reasons
- Begin to realize their abuse of medical knowledge
- Begin to go to one doctor consistently on a regular basis
- Begin to explore why they exhibit their behaviors
Hopefully, a person going through Psychotherapy will be able to explore themselves and come to a determination on why they feel the need to fake being sick. However, Psychotherapy is not extremely reliable. When it works, Psychotherapy is one of the best types of therapies. It gives an individual a trusted friend, a better understanding of themselves, and the ability to actually recognize when they do their behaviors and how to stop. But, if an individual cannot bring themselves to trust their therapist or feels uncomfortable exploring their minds; Psychotherapy will not work properly.
Although medication is often a solution for mental disorders, there is currently no medication that is effective in treating Factitious Disorder.
How Common Is Factitious Disorder?
There no real statistics that can tell us how common that this disorder is for certain. In fact, there is a lack of research about this disorder in general. This is mostly because it is nearly impossible to get true and accurate information from patients. However, it is believed that less than 1% of people admitted to hospitals and clinics have Factitious Disorder. Out of this 1% it is believed that only about 0.3% of these people are actually diagnosed with the disorder.
How Is Someone Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Factitious Disorder is given to individuals either by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other medical professional. The diagnosis process is difficult and tiem consuming. IT is most difficult because these individuals don’t stay with one doctor very long and don’t disclose past medical records; meaning it is almost impossible for one doctor to actually see the symptoms of Factitious Disorder; and they will end up treating someone for other disorders. The questions a medical professional will ask when making a diagnosis of this disorder include:
- Do the reported symptoms make sense?
- Can we access past medical records or past information on this patient?
- Is the person willing to take big surgical risks without much thought?
- Are treatments working in the way they normally do?
If a medical professional sees the answers to these questions as pointing to Factitious Disorder (or another disorder) they then consult the current version of the DSM. In the DSM you can compare a patient’s symptoms and behaviors against the diagnosis criteria for a specific disorder.
By having a brief understanding of Factitious Disorder you can easily become a support system for those who may be diagnosed. If you are living with someone who has been diagnosed with this disorder you can seek help for them and yourself along with others living with you. If you are simply curious about the disorder, you can be the one to educate others on a disorder that is often overlooked. No matter who you are, learning about Factitious Disorder can help to expand your horizons and can help those with the disorder know that they are not alone and that they are supported, even if it is by strangers.