The Grammarphobia Blog

“Munchausen syndrome by proxy”

Q: Is there a word for someone who is hypochondriacal about others? In case that isn’t clear, I’ll give you an example. An unexplained bruise can be symptom of leukemia. But if someone interprets every bruise on her child as a symptom of leukemia, is there a word for that?

A: The phenomenon you’re thinking of is called “Munchausen syndrome by proxy.” In this case, a caregiver (usually a parent) calls attention to himself or herself by imagining (or even actually causing) illness in a child.