Factitious disorders and malingering: challenges for clinical assessment and management

Lancet. 2014 Apr 19;383(9926):1422-32. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62186-8. Epub 2014 Mar 6.


Compared with other psychiatric disorders, diagnosis of factitious disorders is rare, with identification largely dependent on the systematic collection of relevant information, including a detailed chronology and scrutiny of the patient's medical record. Management of such disorders ideally requires a team-based approach and close involvement of the primary care doctor. As deception is a key defining component of factitious disorders, diagnosis has important implications for young children, particularly when identified in women and health-care workers. Malingering is considered to be rare in clinical practice, whereas simulation of symptoms, motivated by financial rewards, is regarded as more common in medicolegal settings. Although psychometric investigations (eg, symptom validity testing) can inform the detection of illness deception, such tests need support from converging evidence sources, including detailed interview assessments, medical notes, and relevant non-medical investigations. A key challenge in any discussion of abnormal health-care-seeking behaviour is the extent to which a person's reported symptoms are considered to be a product of choice, or psychopathology beyond volitional control, or perhaps both. Clinical skills alone are not typically sufficient for diagnosis or to detect malingering. Medical education needs to provide doctors with the conceptual, developmental, and management frameworks to understand and deal with patients whose symptoms appear to be simulated. Central to the understanding of factitious disorders and malingering are the explanatory models and beliefs used to provide meaning for both patients and doctors. Future progress in management will benefit from an increased appreciation of the contribution of non-medical factors and a greater awareness of the conceptual and clinical findings from social neuroscience, occupational health, and clinical psychology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Factitious Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Factitious Disorders* / psychology
  • Factitious Disorders* / therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malingering* / diagnosis
  • Malingering* / psychology
  • Malingering* / therapy
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Prognosis