Understanding Fabricated or Induced Illness

What is Fabricated or Induced Illness?

A rare form of child abuse FII (fabricated or induced illness) happens when a parent or carer either exaggerates the symptoms of a child’s illness, or intentionally causes them, which can cause the child serious physical or emotional harm. 

It can happen to children who are healthy and fit, their caregiver will present the doctor with a range of symptoms, often causing the child to have to undergo unnecessary tests.  Or it can happen to children with disabilities or already diagnosed conditions, but the caregiver will insist their symptoms are significantly worse than they actually are.

Fabricated or induced illness was previously known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which should not be confused with Munchausen’s syndrome which is where a person pretends that they have an illness or inflicts injury to themselves. 

Whilst the term Munchausen syndrome by proxy is still widely used in some countries, healthcare professionals would rather use the term induced or fabricated illness so the emphasise is not put on the carer, but on the child who is the victim of the abuse.

It’s difficult to accurately calculate how many cases there are of FII as many go undiscovered, but in around 90% of cases the adult responsible is the mother.  Children of any age can be affected by FII but generally the more severe cases involve children under the age of five. 


Whilst we don’t fully understand what causes people to fabricate illness in children, it is believed that the following factors could be contributory. 

A large number of mothers have been found to have existing mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder or a history of self-harming. They may have suffered from physical or sexual abuse, had a difficult relationship with their own mother or suffered the loss of a child.

There are mothers who like the attention they receive being thought of as a caring parent, and in some cases the motivation was financial in order to claim sickness or disability benefits.    

Warning signs of FII

·      The only person who can see the symptoms is the person reporting them

·      The child doesn’t respond to medication prescribed

·      The parent involved frequently changes medical care providers to avoid suspicion

·      The caregiver encourages invasive and unnecessary tests

·      The other parent is allowed little involvement in the care of the child

·      The caregiver will often have a good knowledge of medical conditions, diagnosis and treatment

Behaviours in People with FII

·      Deliberately inducing illness in a child by using unnecessary medicines like laxatives or infecting existing wounds

·      Sabotaging test results, for example adding glucose to urine samples or blood to poo samples

·      Smothering the child so they pass out

·      Using toxins on their skin to cause rashes

·      Fabricating symptoms or exaggerating existing ones

·      Not treating existing conditions so that they worsen

Professional Help

If the child is in imminent danger then the appropriate authorities should be contacted to remove them from the home.  All unnecessary treatment will be stopped, and they will receive counselling to help their recovery. The parent or carer will also need psychotherapy to help them understand why they faked or induced their child’s illness, and eventually family therapy for everyone involved.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK). For more free Information click above link.