Illness induction syndrome: paper I--a series of 41 children from 37 families identified at The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust

Child Abuse Negl. 1996 Aug;20(8):655-73. doi: 10.1016/0145-2134(96)00055-5.


At the hospital 41 children from 37 families were identified as having had illness induced by a parent who in all but three cases was the mother. Their case records were reviewed. Four patterns of presentation occurred; failure-to-thrive through the active withholding of food; allegation of allergy and withholding of food; allegation and fabrication of medical symptoms; and active interference by poisoning or disrupting medical treatment. Four of the children died, two as a result of the illness induction. In 35% of the families a sibling had been previously subjected to some type of abuse. All the children had been presented with potentially serious symptoms, but post-identification only five were found to have serious medical problems requiring ongoing treatment. There were no specific characteristics of either the child or family associated with each type of presentation. Seventeen children had previously presented with failure-to-thrive, feeding problems or food allergies. All the mothers had suffered at least one of the following: privation, child abuse, psychiatric illness, or significant loss or bereavement, whereas only half the fathers had grown up in a deprived family situation and/or had earlier or current health difficulties. Forty percent of the parents had serious marital problems. A combined medical/psychosocial team identified the abuse and attempted to understand the family's belief system regarding the illness. The process of Illness Induction was conceptualized as being initiated by the parents perceiving the child to be ill and using this focus on illness as a way of solving major personal, marital, and/or family difficulties.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Maternal Welfare
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / prevention & control*
  • Retrospective Studies