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Brief reactive psychosis

Contents of this page:

Definition    Return to top

Brief reactive psychosis is a sudden, short-term display of psychotic behavior, such as hallucinations, that occur with a stressful event.

Causes    Return to top

Brief reactive psychosis is triggered by some type of extreme stress (such as a traumatic accident or loss of a loved one), after which the person returns to the previous level of function. The person may or may not be aware of the strange behavior.

This condition most often affects people in their 20s and 30s. People who have personality disorders are at greater risk for having a brief reactive psychosis.

Symptoms    Return to top

A brief reactive psychosis is defined by having one of the following:

The symptoms are not due to alcohol or other drug abuse and last longer than a day, but less than a month.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

A psychological evaluation can confirm the symptoms. A physical exam can rule out possible illness as the cause of the symptoms.

Treatment    Return to top

Antipsychotic drugs can help decrease or stop the psychotic symptoms and bizarre behavior. However, symptoms should decrease on their own as long as you stay in a safe environment.

Psychotherapy may also help you cope with the emotional stress that triggered the problem.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Most people with this disorder have a good outcome. Repeat episodes may occur in response to stress.

Possible Complications    Return to top

As with all psychotic illnesses, this condition can severely disrupt your life and possibly lead to violence and suicide.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call for an appointment with a mental health professional if you have symptoms of this disorder. If you are concerned for your safety or for the safety of someone else, call the local emergency number (such as 911) or go immediately to the nearest emergency room.

References    Return to top

International Early Psychosis Association Writing Group. International clinical practice guidelines for early psychosis. Br J Psychiatry. 2005;187:s120-s124.

Update Date: 2/6/2008

Updated by: Christos Ballas, M.D., Attending Psychiatrist, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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