Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Factitious Disorders

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  • 0:07 Factitious Disorders
  • 1:28 Causes and Treatment
  • 3:25 Social Ramifications
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Some people pretend to be sick or make themselves sick. But what could cause a person to do that? And how should they be treated? In this lesson, we'll look closer at factitious disorders.

Factitious Disorders

Piper is addicted to hospitals. She loves that every time she's admitted to one, the nurses and doctors buzz around her trying to figure out what's wrong. They take good care of her, and when she's in a hospital, all the stresses of the rest of her life (work, relationship problems, unpaid bills), they all seem to fade away. As a result, Piper has a habit of making up symptoms so that she'll be admitted to the hospital. Once or twice, she's even purposely made herself sick.

Piper is suffering from factitious disorder, a psychological disorder that involves making yourself sick or pretending to be sick without any obvious benefit. A related disorder, factitious disorder by proxy, involves making someone who is in your care sick. For example, if instead of making herself sick, Piper made her son sick, she would have factitious disorder by proxy.

To most people, the idea of making yourself sick seems odd. After all, there are billion-dollar industries devoted to keeping people healthy. So what could make someone think that it was a good idea to make herself or someone she takes care of sick? And what are the consequences of Piper's actions? In this lesson, we'll examine the causes, treatment and social ramifications of factitious disorders.

Causes and Treatment

It's very hard to estimate how common factitious disorders are because it's hard to tell if someone is making themselves sick, faking being sick or if they really do have something wrong with them. Likewise, no one is exactly sure what causes factitious disorders, though it is probably a combination of both biological and psychological factors.

Brain scans have shown a difference in the brains of patients who suffer from factitious disorders and those who do not. Specifically, those who have factitious disorders have certain brain abnormalities. This suggests that perhaps there is a biological basis for the illness. At the same time, there are many psychological risk factors that factitious disorder patients seem to have in common. Many patients had childhood illness or had a family member who was ill as a child, which resulted in attention from medical personnel.

For example, Piper has a twin sister Emilia who was very sick as a child. Emilia spent a lot of time in hospitals, and every time she was there, the hospital staff would come and check on Emilia regularly. Their mom neglected Piper whenever Emilia was in the hospital. Piper learned that in order to get attention and love, you must be sick. Other common risk factors include a history of relationships with or grudges against doctors and certain mental disorders, including borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

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