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Munchausen syndrome is a serious medical condition commmonly confused with hypochondria, an often overlooked and minimized condition. With the condition known as hypochondria, people experience physical symptoms of illnesses, and find themselves frequenting doctor’s offices, believing that they are truly sick. However, in Munchausen syndrome, the sufferer knows that he or she is not ill at all but seeks medical attention in order to gain attention he/she feels cannot be gained in any other manner. In some cases of Munchausen syndrome, the sufferer will even inflict harm upon him/herself in order to make become sick or hurt in such a way that medical attention is required. This is a diagnosis made by exclusion. It's very important to rule out other medical conditions causing the symptoms.

When the condition may be suspected by a physician, he or she will need to keep careful and close detail of a patient's symptoms, and should avoid all exploratory and extreme treatment procedures (i.e., exploratory surgery). If symptoms of Munchausen persist for six months or more and all other options have been considered, the doctor may approach with some care the subject of the syndrome and its possible treatment options.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy, however, is a far more dangerous form of hypochondria where the afflicted person purposely inflicts harm on another person, usually his/her own child, in order to gain attention from those in the medical profession. Children have been severely deformed, if not killed, because of this disorder.

When a medical practitioner suspects that Munchausen syndrome by proxy is an issue, it is his/her duty to confront the person in a non-accusatory manner and offer support and psychological counseling. Then, the abuse must be reported to the authorities before the child gets hurt.

Treatment of both psychological disorders rarely involves drug therapy and usually takes years of counseling. What usually causes Munchausen is severe abuse or neglect in the past. A victim might have found him/herself in the hospital at some point, for the removal of tonsils or something of that sort, and found he/she was better cared for there than in everyday life. Somehow, this can set off a trigger, and the sufferer will fall into the pattern where he/she craves medical attention and will do whatever possible to get admitted into the hospital.

Some doctors feel that these disorders are untreatable. They seem to think that since the patient may have stopped seeking hospitalization, they are still receiving attention through their psychiatrist. It seems to serve as a safer pacification. However, there are reports of people who have fully recovered despite these other doctors’ opinions. The sufferer spends time working through his/her abuse and finding things to care for in life that are more important than spending time in a hospital.

Those suffering from Munchausen by proxy are a bit more complex to treat because they are not only seeking attention, but are usually apathetic towards the person upon whom they are inflicting the harm. These people are often isolated and involved in emotionally distant relationships with those around them. There may be more hidden and complex issues involved than with the standard Munchausen syndrome. It is also more difficult to get the person to admit that he/she needs treatment. If he/she refuses help, he/she may end up in jail, forced in-patient therapy, and with no rights to his/her children.

There is hope in treating both of these illnesses, but it will take a great deal of support and encouragement from those around the sufferer. If you think yourself or someone you care about may be suffering from either of these disorders, approach the person with caution and care. Support him/her and offer to help the person get the assistance needed. Sufferers can truly be helped.