Delusional misidentification syndromes (DMS) correspond to the delusional belief of misidentification of familiar persons, places or objects and to the conviction that they have been replaced or transformed. Several cases of patients who developed violent behavior while suffering from DMS have been published. This led some authors to consider patients with DMS at risk of violence. However, only a few studies have focused on the potential relationship between violence and DMS. The aim of our study was to explore this relationship with a literature review of published cases of patients having committed violent acts associated to DMS.
A systematic literature search was conducted on PubMed up to January 2017 using the following term combination "misidentification" and "violence" Fifteen cases of patients with DMS who had committed violent acts were identified. The data from these descriptions were analyzed and synthetized.
Most of the patients were men with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and Capgras syndrome. Acts of violence were severe with a relatively high number of murders or attempted murders. For half of the patients these violent acts were perpetrated with weapons. Victims were regularly the patient's family members and the assaults were usually not planned. Delusional syndromes often progressed for several years. Importantly, substance abuse, which is known to increase the risk of violence in patients with schizophrenia, was only observed in two patients.
DMS are associated with several risk factors of violence, such as a diagnosis of schizophrenia, specific delusions including megalomania, persecution, negative affects and identified targets. Despite this risk for severe violence, there are no existing guidelines on how to assess and treat DMS in schizophrenia. Accordingly, we propose (1) the establishment of formal diagnostic criteria, (2) the development of rigorous research on these syndromes and (3) the integration of DMS in assessment of violence risk in schizophrenic patients.