The perpetrators of medical child abuse (Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy) - A systematic review of 796 cases

Child Abuse Negl. 2017 Oct:72:45-53. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.07.008. Epub 2017 Jul 24.


Introduction: Little is known about the perpetrators of medical child abuse (MCA) which is often described as "Munchausen's syndrome by proxy" or "factitious disorder imposed on another". The demographic and clinical characteristics of these abusers have yet to be described in a sufficiently large sample. We aimed to address this issue through a systematic review of case reports and series in the professional literature.

Method: A systematic search for case reports and series published since 1965 was undertaken using MEDLINE, Web of Science and EMBASE. 4100 database records were screened. A supplementary search was then conducted using GoogleScholar and reference lists of eligible studies. Our search yielded a total sample of 796 perpetrators: 309 from case reports and 487 from case series. Information extracted included demographic and clinical characteristics, in addition to methods of abuse and case outcomes.

Results: Nearly all abusers were female (97.6%) and the victim's mother (95.6%). Most were married (75.8%). Mean caretaker age at the child's presentation was 27.6 years. Perpetrators were frequently reported to be in healthcare-related professions (45.6%), to have had obstetric complications (23.5%), or to have histories of childhood maltreatment (30%). The most common psychiatric diagnoses recorded were factitious disorder imposed on self (30.9%), personality disorder (18.6%), and depression (14.2%).

Conclusions: From the largest analysis of MCA perpetrators to date, we provide several clinical recommendations. In particular, we urge clinicians to consider mothers with a personal history of childhood maltreatment, obstetric complications, and/or factitious disorder at heightened risk for MCA. Longitudinal studies are required to establish the true prognostic value of these factors as our method may have been vulnerable to publication bias.

Keywords: Fabricated and induced illness; Factitious disorder; Malingering by proxy; Medical child abuse; Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy; Paediatric condition falsification.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acrylic Resins
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Child
  • Factitious Disorders / diagnosis
  • Factitious Disorders / psychology
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Literacy
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Motivation
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / diagnosis*
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / psychology*
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Risk Factors


  • Acrylic Resins
  • Trutone