Consult-Liaison Education Medicine Reading

DSM-5: Malingering.

My DSM-5 group has lost its previous vitality for the same reasons my blog has lost its previous verve (pending job change, ongoing family health concerns). But! The DSM-5 group has had a few updates; the most recent edition is below. If you’re interested in subscribing to the DSM-5 e-mail group, you can sign up here.

Malingering in DSM-5, like in DSM-IV, is a “V code”. “V codes” (in ICD-9) will turn into “Z codes” (in ICD-10) and these are considered “other conditions that may be a focus on clinical attention”. This means two things:

(1) Conditions listed as “V codes” are not diagnoses because

(2) Conditions listed as “V codes” are not mental disorders.

Therefore, malingering is not a mental disorder.

In crass terms, malingering means that people are faking or *really* embellishing physical or psychological symptoms. People who are malingering do this “consciously” (hat tip to the analysts) because there is an external incentive to do so. These external incentives might include:

a) avoiding military duty
b) avoiding work
c) obtaining financial compensation
d) evading criminal prosecution
e) obtaining drugs

Malingering can be hugely adaptive: If you were homeless and the temperatures outside are below freezing and a winter wind is whipping the frost off of the trees and there are no open shelter beds and you are hungry because the last time you ate was two days ago and that was a soggy, half-eaten sandwich you found in the trashcan–

–wouldn’t you consider going to the hospital and say that you want to kill yourself so you could be in a warm place for a few hours and get some non-soggy food?

DSM-5 argues that if “any combination” of the following four items is present in a patient, you should consider the condition of malingering:

(1) Medicolegal context of presentation (a lawyer sends the client for evaluation or the patient presents for care in the midst of criminal charges)

(2) There is a “marked discrepancy” between the individual’s “claimed stress or disability” and “objective findings and observations”

(3) “Lack of cooperation during the diagnostic evaluation and in complying with the prescribed treatment regimen” (some tired clinicians would summarize this as “a difficult patient”, though I much prefer DSM-5’s description)

(4) The presence of antisocial personality disorder

I applaud DSM-5’s efforts in keeping the description of malingering neutral. Some people have strong reactions towards (translation: self-righteous fury at) people who present with malingering. Keeping the focus on the behaviors helps temper the emotional reactions.

DSM-5 then clarifies the differences between malingering and factitious disorder, conversion disorder, and related conditions. Malingering is the only condition here where symptoms appear solely because there is an external incentive.

On a somewhat related note, the condition that follows malingering in DSM-5 is “wandering associated with a mental disorder”. This is apparently limited to walking (where the “desire to walk about leads to significant clinical management or safety concerns”).

The next post will hopefully show up less than one month away.