Brief psychotic disorder

  • Definition
    • Brief psychotic disorder is a sudden, short-term display of psychotic behavior, such as hallucinations or delusions, which occurs with a stressful event.

  • Alternative Names
    • Brief reactive psychosis; Psychosis - brief psychotic disorder

  • Causes
    • Brief psychotic disorder is triggered by extreme stress, such as a traumatic accident or loss of a loved one. It is followed by a return 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, 30s, and 40s. Those who have personality disorders are at high risk of having a brief reactive psychosis.

  • Symptoms
    • Symptoms of brief psychotic disorder may include the following:

      • Behavior that is odd or out of character
      • False ideas about what is taking place (delusions)
      • Hearing or seeing things that aren't real (hallucinations)
      • Strange speech or language

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

  • Exams and Tests
    • A psychiatric evaluation can confirm the diagnosis. A physical exam and laboratory testing can rule out medical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

  • Treatment
    • By definition, psychotic symptoms go away on their own in less than 1 month. In some cases, brief psychotic disorder can be the beginning of a more chronic psychotic condition, such as schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Antipsychotic drugs can help decrease or stop the psychotic symptoms.

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

  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • Most people with this disorder have a good outcome. Repeat episodes may occur in response to stress.

  • Possible Complications
    • 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
    • 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 to the nearest emergency room right away.

  • References
    • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

      Freudenriech O, Brown HE, Holt DJ. Psychosis and schizophrenia. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 28.