Symptom Magnification refers to the reporting of symptoms that are greater than what would be expected. But that is a very unsatisfying definition. In the context of a workers' compensation claim, it's just about the worst thing one can say shortly after calling someone an outright fraud. The problem with labeling someone with such a drastic term is that in medical literature, it is clear that the tendency to overstate symptoms may be unconscious or conscious. Yet, in everyday usage, it has come to mean intentional lying.
Symptom Magnification Is a Psychological Condition That Affects People With Chronic Illness
Symptom magnifying is a psychological condition that affects people who suffer from chronic illness. Symptoms are exaggerated because they're out of proportion to the actual problem. This causes stress and anxiety, which leads to depression.
Symptom magnification is a real issue for many people with chronic illnesses. Many doctors and therapists recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help patients cope with these issues. CBT teaches people coping skills and allows them to recognize negative thoughts and beliefs that cause them to experience symptoms.
Symptom Magnifiers Tend to Focus On Their Symptoms
The most common symptoms include fatigue, pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, weight gain, insomnia, muscle cramps, and headaches. These symptoms are not necessarily bad things; however, when they occur frequently and last long periods, they can be signs of severe health problems.
If you've ever had a bout of flu or experienced stomach pains after overeating at a restaurant, you've already witnessed symptom magnification. So next time you notice yourself feeling sick, remember that it's just your body telling you something isn't right.
Symptom Magnifying Can Lead To Depression
Symptom magnifiers often feel helpless and hopeless, making them prone to self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, shopping, etc. They may also become isolated from friends and family.
When you have a chronic illness, you need to learn how to manage your symptoms, so you don't get overwhelmed by them. You should also know what triggers your symptoms and avoid those situations. If you do this, you'll find that your symptoms will decrease and eventually disappear.
A case comes to mind involving a woman with a shoulder injury. She was seen by an Occupational Medicine doctor, who we have come to view as being rather callous and indifferent to workers' compensation claimants. When our client did not respond to treatment, this doctor labeled her as symptom magnifying and discharged her as a patient. Subsequently, an MRI revealed a torn rotator cuff.
So, while the patient's complaints were more remarkable than what the doctor expected, the error lay with the doctor's indifference and decision not to order an MRI, which would have supported the patient. This is not at all an isolated instance. We reviewed medical records where an orthopedic surgeon vilified an injured worker after back surgery. The worker was complaining of symptoms more significant than what the doctor expected. That was undoubted because a neurosurgeon evaluated what the orthopedist had done and discovered that the first surgeon had operated on the wrong level in the back.
What's our point in telling horror stories? It's what we've observed, "the other side" doing about injured workers. Just because a couple of people, among the tens of thousands of injured workers, exaggerated their symptoms doesn't mean every workers' compensation claimant is lying about their condition. Yet some healthcare professionals who work closely with the insurance adjusters seem to take a "guilty until proven innocent" view. It's not fair if they pre-judge you before they even do a physical examination.
What can you do about this? We've said it before, and we'll repeat it: avoid dramatic overstatements of pain. They never do you any good and can often cause many unintended problems.