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Freiherr von Münchhausen and the two syndromes bearing his name
  1. Eugen-Matthias Strehle
  1. The Medical School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Eugen-Matthias Strehle, The Medical School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, UK; strehle{at}

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Freiherr von Münchhausen lived in Germany in the 18th century and was famous for telling fascinating stories about his military career. A contemporary of his, the writer Rudolf Erich Raspe, was inspired by these stories and created the fictional character Baron Munchausen who experienced incredible adventures. In the 1950s, the English physician Richard Asher used the name Munchausen syndrome (factitious disorder imposed on self) to describe patients who present with false symptoms to a health professional. In the 1970s, the English paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow applied the term Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSbP) (factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA)) to a type of child abuse, where caregivers with mental health problems fabricate or induce illness in their child. Here, these rare medical conditions are explored from a historical and international perspective.


A syndrome can be defined as a group of signs and symptoms that occur together in a patient and point towards a specific genetic or medical condition. Syndromes were traditionally assigned the name of the doctor who first described them; for instance, Down’s syndrome was named after the British physician John Langdon Down. Its underlying pathology, trisomy 21, was detected long after his death. Munchausen syndrome (by proxy) differs in so far as it was named after a non-medical and fictional character, Baron Munchausen. Munchausen was the invention of the author and scientist Rudolph Erich Raspe who was born in Hanover in 1737 (1736 according to other sources) and died in Muckross in 1794. He based his protagonist Baron Munchausen on a real-life aristocrat, Karl Friedrich Hieronymus Freiherr von Münchhausen who was born in Bodenwerder in 1720 …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.