Kleptomania: 4 Tips for better diagnosis and treatment

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Kleptomania is characterized by a recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or their monetary value.1 It is a rare disorder; an estimated 0.3% to 0.6% of the general population meet DSM-5 criteria for kleptomania (Table 1).1 Kleptomania usually begins in early adolescence and is more common among females than males (3:1).1 Although DSM-5 does not outline how long symptoms need to be present for patients to meet the diagnostic criteria, the disorder may persist for years, even when patients face legal consequences.1

DSM-5 criteria for kleptomania

Due to the clinical ambiguities surrounding kleptomania, it remains one of psychiatry’s most poorly understood diagnoses2 and regularly goes undiagnosed and untreated. Here we provide 4 tips for better diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

1. Screen for kleptomania in patients with other psychiatric disorders because kleptomania often is comorbid with other mental illnesses. Patients who present for evaluation of a mood disorder, substance use, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, impulse control disorders, conduct disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder should be screened for kleptomania.1,3,4 Patients with kleptomania often are reluctant to discuss their stealing because they may experience humiliation and guilt related to theft.1,4 Undiagnosed kleptomania can be fatal; a study of suicide attempts in 107 individuals with kleptomania found that 92% of the patients attributed their attempt specifically to kleptomania.5Table 21 offers screening questions based on the DSM-5 criteria for kleptomania.

6 Screening questions for kleptomania

2. Distinguish kleptomania from other diagnoses that can include stealing. Because stealing can be a symptom of several other psychiatric disorders, misdiagnosis is fairly common.1 The differential can include bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and eating disorder. Table 31,3 describes how to differentiate these diagnoses from kleptomania.

Psychiatric disorders that may involve stealing

3. Select an appropriate treatment. There are no FDA-approved medications for kleptomania, but some agents may help. In an 8-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 25 patients with kleptomania who received naltrexone (50 to 150 mg/d) demonstrated significant reductions in stealing urges and behavior.6 Some evidence suggests a combination of pharmacologic and behavioral therapy (cognitive-behavioral therapy, covert sensitization, and systemic desensitization) may be the optimal treatment strategy for kleptomania.4

4. Monitor progress. After initiating treatment, use the Kleptomania Symptom Assessment Scale7 (K-SAS) to determine treatment efficacy. The K-SAS is an 11-item self-report questionnaire that assesses the severity of kleptomania symptoms during the past week.

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