Münchausen By Media

The Internet makes it so easy to develop weird and unusual diseases.  Just plop a symptom into Google and suddenly you find yourself with stomach cancer, Cushing’s or other dread diseases.

Even on TV, the ads for lawyers almost convince people they might have mesothelioma and other rare illnesses that might bring you – and them! – bundles of money if you just sue someone.

Magazine ads implore you to “ask your doctor about…” this drug or that you might or might not need.  Your doctor might just give it to you to keep you from asking.  And there’s a needless medication that brings profit to the drug company and side effects to you.

TV shows like House and Mystery Diagnosis will show you diseases you never dreamed about.

There’s a great topic on the Power Surge message boards, What’s the worst “disease or ailment” you’ve had, where the women discuss the diseases they thought that they had, based on symptoms, what they’ve seen online, in the news but not based on reality.

I’ve done it myself.  About the only time I was right was with my Cushing’s diagnosis. That one was a good call. But my thoughts of kidney cancer metastasis haven’t come true (yet, anyway!).

There’s been information online lately about Münchausen Syndrome.  Wikipedia says:

“…the affected person exaggerates or creates symptoms of illnesses in themselves or their child/children in order to gain investigation, treatment, attention, sympathy, and comfort from medical personnel. In some extremes, people suffering from Münchausen’s Syndrome are highly knowledgeable about the practice of medicine, and are able to produce symptoms that result in multiple unnecessary operations. For example, they may inject a vein with infected material, causing widespread infection of unknown origin, and as a result cause lengthy and costly medical analysis and prolonged hospital stay. The role of “patient” is a familiar and comforting one, and it fills a psychological need in people with Münchausen’s. It is distinct from hypochondriasis in that patients with Münchausen syndrome are aware that they are exaggerating, whereas sufferers of hypochondriasis believe they actually have a disease.”

I think we’ve all see this, especially online.  It’s so easy to sit in the comfort of ones home and add “just a little” to the symptoms, making it more impressive for the readers.

From A Strange Case of Münchausen By Internet:

“…When I first got online, I “met” a young woman who claimed to be a vet, and offered me all kinds of advice about my cat and my tropical fish. She got cancer, slowly declined, then died. We wanted to send flowers, and maybe attend the funeral, and got her ISP to contact her family for us. To our shock, her parents said there was no funeral. She wasn’t dead, she wasn’t even sick. At least not physically. She’d pulled this kind of “pretend death” several times before, and was in therapy, but every time life got stressful, she’d do it again.

And the Internet is the ideal place for a Munchausen sufferer. With the click of a button, you can find out all kinds of information, to help you pose as anyone you want. People don’t expect to see you in person or even talk to you except by e-mail, making deception easier. And often, mailing lists, message boards, etc., will give unqualified support to their members…”

And Media Makes Me Sick:

“…The Internet is hands-down the worst thing to ever happen to the medical world. With Web sites like WebMD, any paranoid hypochondriac like me can jump online, look for symptoms and immediately convince himself he has cancer or Cushing’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or any other of a million things.

WebMD allows you to find one symptom and then “helps” you by listing 15,000 things it could mean.

Oh my God. I do have a slight ache! That’s it. I must have a brain tumor. I’m not kidding, I recently scared myself into thinking I had cancer. It took a specialist, a CT scan and an ultra-sound to convince me otherwise…”

Karen found this older article at http://www.villagevoice.com/2001-06-26/news/cybersickness/1

“…Over nearly three years, from 1998 to 2000, a woman—let’s call her Anna—posted to an online support group for people with mental illness. To the larger circle of readers, she acted mostly as friendly counselor. But to a select few, she e-mailed stories of escalating catastrophes. Her husband and two children had perished in a plane crash, she wrote. As a kid, her father had molested her, and she had suffered multiple personality disorder. Finally, she told her trusted—and trusting—confidants that she had just been diagnosed with leukemia.

Gwen Grabb, a psychotherapy intern and mother of three in Los Angeles, says the group believed Anna because she took on the role of helping others, revealing her own difficulties much later, and to an intimate audience. “She was very bright,” recalls Grabb. “She was very supportive and kind. One day, she started telling me about `the crash,’ what they found in the black box, how you could hear her daughter screaming. I had known her a year. I believed her.”

But as the tales became more elaborate and grotesque, Grabb grew suspicious. Along with another group member—Pam Cohen, a bereavement counselor in the Mid-Atlantic region—she did some research and discovered Anna was making it up. It was a shock to all, but worse than that to Cohen. “It is like an emotional rape,” she says. People may have been upset over the online life and fatal cancer of the fictional Kaycee, whose creator admitted last month she’d invented the high school character for expressive purposes. But that was geared to a general audience, however easily suckered. Pretenders like Anna hurt a much more vulnerable group—folks who may be seriously ill and are seeking help…”

So – use caution and remember that not everything you read will happen to you!

5 Responses

  1. From Facebook:

    Kim L said: Thank you for posting this article I think it is very interesting and important information.
    Hope you are doing well. xoxo

    Mary L said: I've been reading about this lately, too, Mary. We have a friend who was dx'd with this, but in her case I am convinced that she did not intentionally lie, which makes me question this dx. But it's good to know about!

  2. For those interested in this topic, there are a lot of responses on the Cushing's Help message boards at http://cushings.invisionzone.com/index.php?showto

  3. There are a lot of comments on this article at http://cushings.invisionzone.com/index.php?showto… One I found particularly interesting was "How do you know if you are "one of those people"? I mean, any one of us, who has not yet been diagnosed, could be accused accordingly. How can you tell?"

    That brings up a good point – when do you stop believing in yourself and start to think that the doctors are right, that you're blowing everything out or proportion?

    Or do you always stick to your guns?

  4. Cushings is the favorite disease and the easiest one to feign according to a lot of these sites. My take is that some fake it and some don't. Some are hypochondriacs and some aren't. To be safe, I feel it important to always give everyone the benefit of the doubt. That's all we really can do. If anyone were to accuse one of Munchausens or … Read MoreHypochondria or anything of the sort, naturally it will be denied. So, as a community, the fate really is left in the patient's hands until the doctors take the wheel and put the pieces together… should there be smoking gun evidence that suggests a mental illness and not a glandular disorder.

    ~~~

    You can't fake lab work, MRIs, and moon faces.

    ~~~

    I agree Jessica….you can fake the symptoms but the lab work and studies speak for themselves.

    ~~~

    Munchausens is also about causing yourself to get sick. Most Munchausens patients ARE physically sick and DO need surgery or intense care. Actually, anybody can cause themself to get Cushings if they've got the right stuff at home. Has anyone heard of Steroid induced Cushings? If you have access to the right stuff, you can manipulate the results of… Read More labs, get a moon face, and cause yourself a tumor from the excess cortisol – or even get so far as to get attention from the doctors.

    Munchausen's is not Hypochondria.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Above comments from Facebook October 19, 2009.

  5. I believe that Münchausen by proxy is way more than concern for your child. I think you have to be doing something to him/her to make him/her sick.

    I can't imagine anyone here deliberately causing Cushing's in another person.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Münchausen_synd

    QUOTE
    …a disorder in which a person deliberately causes injury or illness to another person, usually to gain attention or some other benefit.[1][2] Münchausen by proxy has been described by some as a form of extended child abuse.[3] The motivation is to assume the sick role by proxy.[4]

    From http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/munchau

    QUOTE
    In MBPS, an individual — usually a mother — deliberately makes another person (most often his or her own preschool child) sick or convinces others that the person is sick. The parent or caregiver misleads others into thinking that the child has medical problems by lying and reporting fictitious episodes. He or she may exaggerate, fabricate, or induce symptoms.

    A few years ago there was an episode of House where a person had Cushing's in the past and she injected herself with ACTH (I have no idea where/how she'd get that but that's TV) to give herself a recurrence. Weird but I doubt that any of us would go that far.

    It's interesting how the character of this topic is changing. I don't think that anyone here has Münchausen in any form.

    Sometimes, I do exaggerate my symptoms just so people get it. People say, "well I'm tired, too" and they just don't understand how tired Cushies get if I don't sound a little over the top.

    Sometimes my audience isn't – well – aware enough of the human body and I have to educate them a bit. They don't have a clue where the pituitary gland is, so the story gets embellished a bit.

    I still believe the same as I did at the beginning of this post – no matter what your family/friends/doctors may think – it's YOUR body, your symptoms. You know it better than anyone else ever will. If you think you're sick, you have to do what's best to take care of YOU.

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