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What is malingering?

Malingering is the act of faking or exaggerating symptoms for personal gain. People may fake illness to:

  • get out of work, military duty, or criminal prosecution
  • get large amounts of money from insurance claims, lawsuits, or workers' compensation
  • get a healthcare provider to prescribe certain drugs

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may vary. Malingerers tend to complain of problems that are difficult to prove, such as severe pain, anxiety, or stress. Tests such as X-rays and lab tests cannot find a physical cause for the problem.

How is it diagnosed?

Malingering may be suspected when:

  • an attorney asks a person to have a medical examination
  • the illness begins at the same time as a large financial incentive, such as a new disability policy
  • medical tests do not confirm the patient's complaints
  • the person does not cooperate with needed testing or treatment
  • the person has antisocial attitudes and behaviors such as not caring about other people's feelings

Diagnosing malingering is a challenge for healthcare providers. On the one hand, the provider does not want to overlook a treatable disease. On the other hand, he or she does not want to continue ordering tests and treatments if the symptoms are faked. If a provider suspects malingering, the person may be referred to a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists and psychologists may use certain tests to try to determine whether the person is faking the symptoms.

How is it treated?

People who are purposefully faking symptoms for gain do not want to be cured. Often, the malingering patient does not improve with treatment, and the healthcare provider may try many treatments without success.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2005-01-19
Last reviewed: 2010-09-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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