Journal of Mental Health and Human Behaviour

: 2017  |  Volume : 22  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 126--128

Dermatitis artefacta: A consequence of self-mutilating behavior in a girl with intellectual disability

Anamika Das1, Sujita Kumar Kar1, Priyadarshini Sahu2,  
1 Department of Psychiatry, King George's Medical University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Department of Dermatology and Venerology, Pandit Bhagwat Dayal Sharma Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Rohtak, Haryana, India

Correspondence Address:
Sujita Kumar Kar
Department of Psychiatry, King George's Medical University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh


Intellectual disability (mental retardation) is a common mental health morbidity, worldwide. These groups of individuals are often a neglected cluster in the society. Intellectual disability often disables their ability to express their needs and distress, which becomes more evident with increasing severity of intellectual disability. Individuals with intellectual disability may show challenging behaviors such as self-injurious behavior. Dermatitis artefacta may result from repeated self-injurious behavior, which may mimic with various dermatologic conditions. Improvement in self-injurious behavior may bring improvement in the skin lesions.

How to cite this article:
Das A, Kar SK, Sahu P. Dermatitis artefacta: A consequence of self-mutilating behavior in a girl with intellectual disability.J Mental Health Hum Behav 2017;22:126-128

How to cite this URL:
Das A, Kar SK, Sahu P. Dermatitis artefacta: A consequence of self-mutilating behavior in a girl with intellectual disability. J Mental Health Hum Behav [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 Jun 26 ];22:126-128
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Full Text


Intellectual disability is widely seen across the globe with a prevalence of 18.3 per 1000 population with the highest prevalence in low- to middle-income countries.[1] Challenging behavior is seen in more than half individuals with intellectual disability.[2] Various risk factors (male gender, lack of communication skills, and strong need for care) attribute to the development of challenging behavior in intellectual disability. The majority of the challenging behavior are situational, which depends on the extent of interaction between the individual and environment.[2] Challenging behaviors are frequently seen in the context of sensory impairments and in the presence of comorbid psychiatric disorders.[3] The challenging behavior may be of self-injurious type, aggressive type, or stereotyped type.[3]

Self-mutilating behavior may be seen in healthy children during infancy and early childhood; its persistence after the age of 3 years is considered as pathological.[4] Self-injurious behavior may be of various forms, of which, biting is a common type of behavior. Self-injurious behaviors are mostly reported during adolescence and commonly associated with female gender.[4] A study reported the prevalence of dermatitis artefacta in 3.7% individuals with intellectual disability.[5] Other dermatoses associated with intellectual disability were trichotillomania and onychophagia.[5]

The nosological status of the self-inflicted skin lesions in dermatology is debatable. Dermatitis artefacta is often seen in the light of factitious disorder;[6] however, it may be the result of self-injurious behavior seen in individuals with intellectual disability.

 Case Report

An 18-year-old female from rural background was brought for psychiatric consultation to a tertiary care hospital with the chief complaints of inability to take proper care of herself and frequent self-injurious behavior. The patient was born at home by normal vaginal delivery with a history of delayed cry. No history of any need of ventilatory support or hyperbilirubinemia or prolonged fever reported in the postnatal period. All developmental milestones (motor, language and social) were delayed. She had started walking at around 6 years of age. On sociodevelopmental ground, the patient could dress herself and feed herself when provided with food. She did not have any toilet training, could not handle money, and could not identify colors. There had been no history of seizure. Her family history was insignificant for any psychiatric illness. The patient had behavior of harming herself. She used to bite her right hand especially the first web space, which started from the age of 4 years. The injured part would heal in due course of time, which was subsequently followed by self-injury by the patient in the same area. The parents of the patient consulted several doctors for the treatment of the recurrent cutaneous lesion. There was no history of other significant behavioral disorders like harming others or getting irritated on unprovoked trivial issues. The sleep and other vegetative functions of the patient were adequate. The patient was advised for the assessment of her intellectual functioning (intelligence quotient assessment) which came around 35–40 suggestive of moderate mental retardation.

On dermatological/cutaneous examination, there was a non-itchy thickened plaque of size 5 cm × 6 cm with central depigmentation and peripheral hyperpigmentation present on first web space of the right hand [Figure 1]. In addition to this, there were some raw areas suggesting of recent self-injurious behavior. A biopsy was advised by the dermatologist with the differential diagnosis of hypertrophic scar and hypertrophic lichen planus. Histopathological examination was suggestive of hypertrophic scar. She was also started with tablet risperidone (0.5 mg/day) for her behavioral problems with topical 3% salicylic acid ointment on the cutaneous lesions. Expectations of the family members were addressed; behavioral modifications were suggested.{Figure 1}


Self-mutilation is often seen in the context of mental illness and may be the manifestation of aggression directed toward self.[7] The psychological distress resulting from any cause in individuals with intellectual disability may be manifested as self-directed aggression. The skin lesions in dermatitis artefacta are often located in the approachable sites of the body and can be manifested in the form of keloid and hypertrophied scar.[8],[9] In our patient, the self-induced callous and associated skin changes are a component of dermatitis artefacta.

There are limited evidence regarding the use of pharmacological intervention in the management of behavioral problems associated with intellectual disability; however, various medications such as risperidone, lithium, methylphenidate, antiepileptic drugs, naltrexone, glutamatergic agents, and acetylcholinesterase inhibitors have been tried with variable success.[9],[10],[11] These medications have been used in various clinical or syndromal subtypes of intellectual disabilities. Our patient was prescribed risperidone to curtail her self-injurious behavior.

The clinician should be judicious in prescribing psychotropic medications in individuals with intellectual disability. Use of psychotropic medication without clear indications may cause drug-related problems, which may be as high as 34%. Structured medication review focusing on the assessment of the need of medication, dose of medication, and monitoring of adverse drug events regularly may be beneficial in individuals with intellectual disability.[12] Dermatological lesions often improve with improvement in self-injurious behavior. Topical keratolytic agents may be beneficial.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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