Malingering is when a person exaggerates or makes up a physical or psychological illness or injury to seek personal gain (such as paid sick leave, worker's compensation, avoiding military duty, obtaining financial compensation, obtaining drugs). It is a voluntary behavior directed toward achieving a certain goal. It is not thought to be a form of mental illness. But it can exist in the context of other mental illnesses.
Malingering is not considered a mental disorder. It occurs when a person intentionally fakes symptoms for personal gains. It is caused by external factors that motivate the malingering. It is often associated with antisocial personality disorder.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Malingering often occurs in the work environment. It also occurs when there are legal disputes that involve money and medical issues.
Signs of malingering include:
There is no way to definitively diagnose malingering. The diagnosis focuses on ruling out true physical or mental causes of symptoms. Psychological assessments can also help rule out other disorders, such as Munchausen's syndrome. Depending on reported symptoms, exams may be done and tests may be ordered to look for real physical illnesses.
Since it is not a true illness, there is no real treatment for malingering. When malingering is suspected, the doctor may:
Malingering is not a mental disorder. It can be prevented by making the decision not to exaggerate or make up symptoms for personal gain.
American Psychiatric Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Greer S, Chambliss L. What physical exam techniques are useful to detect malingering? J Fam Pract. 2005;54.
Rogers R. Clinical Assessment of Malingering and Deception. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 1988.
Last reviewed January 2013 by Brian Randall, MD