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.
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.
A person who engages in malingering behavior on a regular basis lacks the guilt that normal people get when lying. The person can be quite manipulative. Some individuals may only fake an illness once in a while, such as a person calling in sick to work or school when he or she is not really ill. Someone who is faking an illness may complain of any symptom that will fool another person.
Someone who malingers will fake an illness for some type of external gain, such as money. Those at higher risk are: those addicted to drugsthose with antisocial personality disorder, a condition that describes people who lack a properly formed conscience or sense of guilt when doing something wrongmen, who are more likely to show this behavior than women
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.
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.
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.
Those who malinger can cost other people money, time, and energy.
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.
There are generally no side effects from treatment for drug addiction.
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.
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.
Synopsis of Psychiatry, 1998, Kaplan et al.