What are Factitious Disorders?

Factitious disorders are mental conditions wherein you act as if and believe you’re suffering from an illness when in fact you’re not sick. There’s also the factitious disorder by proxy, a condition when you act as if and believe a person in your care is suffering from an illness when he or she doesn’t.

Types of factitious disorders

There are four major types of factitious disorders:

The first type has mostly psychological symptoms, such as schizophrenia: appearing confused, making absurd statements, reporting hallucinations, and manifesting Ganser syndrome (also known as prison psychosis).

The second type has mostly physical symptoms: fever, stomach problems, or chest pain.

The third type involves both psychological and physical symptoms.

The fourth type is the factitious disorder by proxy. A person with this disorder fabricates or makes symptoms of illness in another person(s) under his or her care. This type is most prevalent in mothers who harm their children on purpose to receive attention.

Causes of factitious disorders

Little is known about the real cause of factitious disorders. However, researchers are examining the roles of psychological and biological factors in the progression of these disorders.

A number of theories hold that a history of neglect or physical or sexual abuse as a child might be a significant factor in the development of this disorder. Some theories look at a person’s history of frequent illnesses that needed hospitalization as an important factor also.

How factitious disorders are diagnosed?

Due to the dishonesty involved, diagnosing factitious disorders can be very difficult. The doctor has to rule out other possible mental and physical illnesses before he or she considers a diagnosis of the disorder.

If there’s no physical reason for the symptoms, the person is referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist, who then evaluates the person using specially designed assessment tools. The doctor also bases the diagnosis on his or her observation of the attitude and behavior of the patient.

How to treat factitious disorders?

The foremost goal of treating factitious disorders is to modify the patients’ behavior and to make them stop misusing, overusing, or abusing medical resources.

In factitious disorder by proxy, the primary goal is to guarantee the protection and safety of real as well as potential victims. After meeting the initial goal, the treatment is directed to work out psychological issues that may have caused the patient’s behavior.

Psychotherapy is the major treatment for factitious disorders. It often focuses on modifying the behavior and thinking of the person with the disorder. This is called cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Also, family therapy may be helpful in educating family members about the disadvantages of rewarding or reinforcing the behavior of the patient.