Witchcraft's syndrome: Munchausen's syndrome by proxy

Int J Dermatol. 1998 Mar;37(3):229-30. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-4362.1998.00429.x.


A 28-year-old man presented to the Dermatology Outpatient Department with a complaint of a burning sensation and soreness over his left cheek and left ear of 10 days duration. It had started suddenly one morning when he woke up from sleep. He noticed a large blister with intense redness over his left cheek, associated with a burning sensation. There was a history of similar episodes over the past year, and all were sudden in onset, involved the cheeks, and were noticed after waking up from sleep. The patient volunteered that the episodes were always associated with a drinking spree the previous night. The individual was a healthy man with a wife and two children. The patient had been dependent on alcohol for the past year, and had been consuming alcohol for many years. On examination, there was an eschar occupying almost the entire cheek, with a few scattered lesions over the left tragus and left external ear. Peripheral scarring was noted with hyperpigmentation. While the angle of the mouth was superficially involved on the left side, the oral mucosa was normal. The right cheek also showed a few areas of scarring with patches of alopecia. There were no similar lesions elsewhere on the body. The peculiar history and the morphology of the lesion, that defied any classical diagnosis description, prompted us to interrogate both the man and his wife with regard to any serious differences. After much persuasion and on assurance of secrecy, the wife admitted that her husband was an alcoholic and was neglecting his family. When her efforts to prevent his drinking failed, she resorted to this drastic measure. Each time he passed out after a drinking bout, she poured acid on his cheek, hoping that the sequelae would frighten him from drinking. The acid was readily available to her as she used it for domestic cleaning. The couple were sent for psychiatric evaluation as Munchausen's syndrome by proxy (MSBP) or witchcraft's syndrome (WS) was suspected. Detailed psychiatric evaluation, together with psychometric assessment, revealed that the patient had an alcohol dependence (Axis-I diagnosis) and had a cyclothymic personality. Severe marital discord due to alcohol dependence had been present for the past 2 years. Evaluation of the patient's wife revealed that she was under significant psychologic distress. She showed major depressive symptoms with a histrionic personality. She revealed that she had resorted to using the corrosive out of frustration and anger over the behavior of the patient while he was in an inebriated state. The couple are currently undergoing psychiatric treatment.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholism*
  • Burns, Chemical / diagnosis*
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / diagnosis*
  • Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy / psychology
  • Spouse Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology
  • Witchcraft*