"Obnoxious" isn’t quite it either
September 26, 2006 1:43 PM   Subscribe

Is there a word to describe a person who repeatedly becomes convinced that someone else is sick with various obscure ailments, based on flimsy or imagined evidence?

I've already come up with "transferred hypochondria" and "wack neurosis." What I'm really asking is whether this is a common phenomenon and whether it is recognized as a legitimate, specific condition.

I ask because I know someone who does this. It goes beyond old wives' tale, grandma-caliber "put a sweater on, you'll catch your death" fretting - this is a persistent, manic conviction that I'm currently suffering from everything from depression to random glandular disorders to trichotillomania. (I'm not.) Nastily, I'd love to be able to add to my usual response of "No, I really don't have X," "but I think you may have Y." And I'm curious about this condition, if it is a recognized condition and not just straight-up lunacy.
posted by jessicapierce to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
Best answer: Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy?
posted by box at 1:45 PM on September 26, 2006

I used to tell my mom she was a vicarioius hypochondriac.
posted by clh at 1:48 PM on September 26, 2006

posted by clh at 1:49 PM on September 26, 2006

Not Munchausen's by proxy - that'd be if the illness was intentional. That is, Munchausen's involves inducing symptoms in ones self in order to gain attention (I'm sure that's oversimplified); Munchausen's by proxy is the same, but with a third party as the patient (the classical example being a parent causing their child to become ill).

If I understand correctly, the OP is asking for something more hypochondria-esque - an overreaction to symptoms, not intentionally caused symptoms.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 2:01 PM on September 26, 2006

As I understand it, Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy serves to generate attention by reporting or creating symptoms, as in sympathy for the distressed and frantic mother of a "sick" child, or in the dependency of a victim on the self-styled caretaker.

If your person in question is not in a position to benefit in this way, maybe it's just a case of wannabedoctorknowitallism.
posted by Tubes at 2:06 PM on September 26, 2006

posted by Happy Dave at 2:11 PM on September 26, 2006

Projected hypochondria?
posted by nanojath at 2:19 PM on September 26, 2006

Just out of interest re: Munchausens-by-proxy.

My belief or feeling is that there's a continuum of behaviour from the trivial over-caring relative/friend given to a bit of negative outlook and on up to the full blown psychiatric elements of the Munchausens-by-proxy.....and varying levels in between.

I would think that the behaviour is described more definitely as a 'disorder' as the ramifications of the illness projections or the extent of the meddling increases. And I also imagine that the behaviour could be assessed in different ways eg. a component of obsessive-compulsive syndrome, an element of a depressive disorder or even psychotic delusional behaviour and etc. But these are only my psuedoedumacated opinions.
posted by peacay at 2:20 PM on September 26, 2006

Those suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy are not confined to being delusional; they often intentionally cause illness in their victim.

The typical case I recall was a mother who was injecting fecal matter intravenously into her child, causing recurrent bacterial blood infections. The child became extremely ill.

What you're asking about is a fixed delusion; in the absence of other symptoms the DSM diagnosis would be 'delusional disorder.' The term 'folie a deux' is used to refer to the special case where a second person is "drawn into" the delusional psychosis of their friend or partner, themselves coming to share the delusional beliefs.

This is a general description, not meant to apply to your case. It's hard to know what might motivate a person to behave as you describe; mental illness is only one of the possibilities.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:10 PM on September 26, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for so many good & fast responses. I can't provide much more detail, for fear of hurting the person’s feelings terribly, should there be googling. (the person is not at all likely to recognize itself from the information given, which is another part of the lunacy - the complete lack of understanding that such hysterical fretting is inappropriate and over the line.)

I can say that this person never caused any symptoms or illness in me - nothing worse than intense frustration. It was mostly overreaction to, or crazy-ass misinterpretation of, minor physical complaints or oddities. For example, a chance remark about having a sore throat might be met with "OH GOD YOU HAVE THROAT CANCER!" - said in all sincerity, with repeated & escalating demands that I see a specialist. Occasionally no symptom existed in the first place; the new sub-obsession was sparked by my age ("someone your age once died of a heart attack, you should see a cardiologist!"), location ("city smog can trigger allergies, do you have allergies??!"), etc.

Anyway, thanks for the ideas given so far. I can't believe Munchausen's-by-proxy hadn't occurred to me already. That's not exactly it, but fascinatingly close.
posted by jessicapierce at 4:55 PM on September 26, 2006

It's not Munchausen's-by-proxy at all! Not even close. The other answers are much more accurate.
posted by apple scruff at 8:40 PM on September 26, 2006

Oh, like random laypeople people using the DSM to diagnose others' supposed Personality Disorders. ("You have PTSD-NOS and AHDD-PDQ!") To me it decodes to "I'm smarter than you!'
posted by davy at 10:05 PM on September 26, 2006

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