Unlike many other mental disorders that exhibit visible symptoms, like an accelerated heartbeat, heavy perspiring, or fainting, individuals with factitious disorder only claim to be suffering from certain medical conditions, but, in reality, are not. Usually associated with hypochondria, people with factitious disorder generally only claim to have symptoms that cannot be medically diagnosed, for example, stomach or headaches or chest pains. Unlike a hypochondriac who insists he or she has cancer, which can be clinically refuted, pain cannot be ruled out by a physician.
Factitious disorder is also known as "Munchausen syndrome," named for an 18th Century German military officer who was known for his tall tales. Patients with this disorder can facilitate a series of costly medical diagnostic procedures despite the absence of a visible symptom. Physicians are placed in a difficult position when treating someone with factitious disorder, as the risk of not taking the patient seriously can be legally problematic.