Factitious Disorder

What is Factitious Disorder?

Factitious disorder is a mental health condition and is considered to be quite serious in nature. The condition is characterized by the fact that the person suffering from factitious disorder acts as if they are sick or afflicted with another mental or physical illness when they are not actually ill. They may also intentionally get sick or cause themselves physical injury on purpose to make their supposed affliction more serious or realistic.

Most people who suffer from factitious disorder are fully aware that they are fabricating symptoms or falsely representing themselves. However, they may not know exactly why they are engaging in such behaviors or even why they want others to believe they are ill and in need of medical treatments that they do not actually need.

It is important to keep in mind that people with factitious disorder do not necessarily get or gain anything from pretending to be sick. In fact, they often manipulate situations to get medical treatments that they do not actually need, some of which are dangerous. As such, it is quite difficult to determine an exact cause for factitious disorder. Some physicians and psychologists can find connections between serious childhood illnesses and factitious disorder. Physical and sexual abuse as well as personality disorders may also be connected.

What are the Symptoms of Factitious Disorder?

If a person has a medical history that involves a great deal of serious or severe illnesses but seems to be quite inconsistent, it is a major sign they have factitious disorder. When they complain of symptoms or illnesses, they may offer vague explanations or claim that symptoms are getting worse even though there is no actual medical reason for the worsening of those symptoms.

People with factitious disorder may also be hospitalized often, try to get treatment from many different doctors, know medical terms and conditions very well, be eager for tests and treatments, and be combative with medical staff. They may also exhibit drug-seeking behaviors and request pain medication often.

Factitious Disorder Causes

Mental conditions are the most common cause of factitious disorder, amplifying or fabricating an illness or a self-inflicted injury. The condition is linked with emotional and behavioral difficulties provoked by a combination of psychological aspects; one being stress.

Early childhood traumas linked to personal abuse, abandonment or self-esteem can trigger physical and mental reactions with an intense will for attention, leading to factitious disorders. Other instigators are lifestyle choices; excessive alcohol or substance misuse can mask underlying health issues.

In some cases, a personality disorder activates the condition; associated with an individual’s emotional fear, preferring dependence rather than a forced independence. Frequent illnesses as a young child or repetitive hospitalizations of a family member can set off the delusion the disorder exists, even though examinations and tests disagree.

Psychological illnesses like depression or schizophrenia may cause this disorder, producing unusual behaviors where the individual describes physical ailments that do not exist. Chronic illnesses and dysfunctional family environments, accompanied by social isolation can contribute to this condition.

How is Factitious Disorder Treated?

When dealing with a person with factitious disorder, the primary goal of treatment is to stop them from continuing to seek out medical care that they do not need and to stop doing themselves harm. Once these behaviors are better under control, then the person can receive psychological and psychiatric treatment for the underlying mental health conditions that are causing their factitious disorder.

Factitious Disorder Prevention

There is no cure, or any established industry prevention for this condition, but there are precautions you can take if you suspect a family member with this condition. Early detection is always the best prevention for more serious condition developments.

Talk with the attending doctor and seek additional consultation from other health experts, since physical or mental examinations may differ between the two health sectors.

Gather as much information about early family history, hospital treatments or therapies determining the type of trauma prompting the incident. Sometimes, lab tests require controls to prevent tampering with the results before administering assistance.

It’s best to avoid procedures, particularly if the individual rejects the medical advice, leaves the hospital without approval or the caregiver chooses to terminate the services.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 21, 2017