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Malingering

Definition

Malingering is a condition in which a person consciously pretends to have an illness or disability to get some type of external gain. This may include trying to avoid work or get money. It is different from Munchausen syndrome, in which a person fakes a specific illness for psychological reasons not related to external gains.

What is going on in the body?

A person who malingers may report many different symptoms. However, these symptoms are made up or greatly exaggerated. Someone showing this behavior may want to avoid work or school, get drugs or money, or avoid criminal prosecution. In unusual cases, this behavior may be considered positive, such as faking an illness when being held hostage, in order to escape.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

Someone who malingers will fake an illness for some type of external gain, such as money. Those at higher risk are:
  • those addicted to drugs
  • those with antisocial personality disorder, a condition that describes people who lack a properly formed conscience or sense of guilt when doing something wrong
  • men, who are more likely to show this behavior than women

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

There is no known way to prevent occasional faking of an illness. Holding a person accountable for his or her actions may help prevent repeat episodes of malingering.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

A healthcare professional may suspect malingering when a person is clearly trying to gain something, such as pain medication or money. Any tests ordered are usually negative. The physical exam often fails to show anything abnormal.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

The long-term effects of malingering are related to the type and size of gain a person is after. For instance, a person who seeks thousands of dollars in a phony lawsuit may be convicted of fraud if caught. On the other hand, if the person is successful, he or she may hurt others by taking from them.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Those who malinger can cost other people money, time, and energy.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Those who occasionally call in sick to get out of work or school do not need treatment, if this is does not become a recurrent pattern of behavior. However, setting firm limits on a person's behavior and holding the person accountable for his or her actions is important. Treatment may be needed for an underlying drug addiction, if this is the reason for faking illness.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

There are generally no side effects from treatment for drug addiction.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Those who are caught faking an illness may face consequences, depending on the gain they seek. Those who get away with faking an illness usually do so at the expense of others. Those treated for a drug addiction are often able to return to healthy, productive lives.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Those who fake illness often are fairly skilled at deceiving others. These people usually avoid attempts at monitoring. Some may move from job to job or place to place.

Sources

Synopsis of Psychiatry, 1998, Kaplan et al.

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