Brief Psychotic Disorder: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Brief psychotic disorder occurs suddenly and lasts for less than one month. A complete remission follows this psychotic episode, but the affected person is always at risk of experiencing a new psychotic episode.

Psychotic breaks may be accompanied by depression or anxiety, though often the person seems fine before the psychotic break occurs.

Some people experiencing a psychotic episode may experience auditory or visual hallucinations that aren’t real. There may be bizarre behavior and difficulties functioning.

Brief psychotic disorders resolve in one month, not like other psychotic disorders, which may require ongoing medication to maintain symptomatology. Sometimes, the symptoms disappear almost immediately after they appear.

Individuals affected by the disease and their loved ones may find the process to be frightening and confusing. It can be helpful to understand psychotic disorders better.

Generally, doctors use the term psychotic symptoms to describe symptoms that strike suddenly and only last a short time. Generally, the person recovers completely afterward.

A brief psychotic disorder can take one of three forms:

  1. Brief psychotic disorder with obvious stressor (also called brief reactive psychosis): It takes place shortly after a stressful event, such as a family member’s death, an accident, personal assault or a natural disaster. Usually, it is caused by a disturbing event.
  2. Brief psychotic disorder without obvious stressors: This type is not triggered by trauma or stress.
  3. Brief psychotic disorder with postpartum onset: Women only contract this type of infection within four weeks of giving birth.

Brief psychotic disorder symptoms

Symptoms of Brief Psychotic Disorder

Some of the obvious brief psychotic disorder symptoms are:

Hallucinations: Voices might be heard, things might be seen that aren’t there, or a person might feel sensations when it’s clear that nothing is touching the body.

Delusions: People continue to believe false beliefs despite the evidence that proves them wrong.

Other symptoms are:

  • Disorganized thinking
  • Unintelligible language or speech
  • Unusual behavior and clothing
  • Memory issues
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Diet, sleeping, energy levels and weight changes
  • Being unable to make decisions

Psychotic disorders can appear very differently in different people. Therefore, perceiving voices that don’t exist may hinder some people from hearing other voices. Others may become catatonic, where nothing can be heard. It is sometimes impossible to diagnose an illness until the symptoms have resolved.

Causes

The cause of the brief psychotic disorder is unknown. Genetic factors may play a role, as the condition is more common among those with a family history of psychiatric or mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or depression.

There is also the possibility that poor coping skills could trigger the disorder as an escape mechanism from traumatic or stressful situations or as a defense mechanism against them.

The disorder is typically triggered by a major stressor or traumatic event. Childbirth can trigger depression in some women.

How common is it?

Brief psychosis is rare. Normally it happens in people’s 20s and 30s, and women are more likely to experience it than men.

There is a higher probability you will get it if you have an antisocial personality disorder or paranoid personality disorder.

Diagnosis

The short psychotic disorder can be diagnosed by a clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or physician. Diagnoses may also be made by interviewing family members because individuals who are affected may not be able to provide reliable information during a psychotic episode.

Concerned friends and family members often bring a person to the doctor when they notice the person exhibits strange behavior, such as talking to people who aren’t there or speaking in sentences that don’t make sense.

There will likely be diagnostic tests run by a physician to eliminate potential physical causes and ensure substance use isn’t involved. If there are no physical health issues, a mental health professional will be referred to you.

To determine if the diagnosis is correct, clinicians use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

As brief psychotic disorder has a limited lifespan, the diagnosis is usually only made once the symptoms have resolved. It is often impossible for a clinician to determine whether someone has developed a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia that remains permanent or whether the episode is temporary (like a brief psychotic disorder).

Brief psychotic disorder treatment

In the case of brief psychotic disorder, medication will probably be prescribed to treat psychotic symptoms, as well as psychotherapy (a type of counseling). Patients with severe symptoms or those who threaten harm to themselves or others may require hospitalization for a while. Early treatment improves the chances of success.

Medications: Antipsychotic medications can be prescribed to ease symptoms, end the brief psychotic episode and achieve long-term psychiatric stability.

Psychotherapy is a form of counseling, or “talk therapy.” The goal is to identify and address the event or situation that initiated the disorder.

A medicine for treating brief psychotic disorders has not been approved by the FDA. Antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed to treat schizophrenia. Some of these include:

  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine)
  • Fluphenazine (Prolixin)
  • Haloperidol (Haldol)
  • Loxapine (Loxitane)
  • Perphenazine (Trilafon)
  • Trifluoperazine (Stelazine)
  • Thioridazine (Mellaril)
  • Thiothixene (Navane)

Some of the newer medications that doctors call “atypical antipsychotics” include:

  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Asenapine (Saphris)
  • Brexpiprazole (Rexulti)
  • Clozapine (Clozaril)
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
  • Paliperidone (Invega)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)

Those who are anxious or have trouble sleeping may be prescribed tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan).

Prognosis

The prognosis for brief psychosis is good. Symptoms of chronic illness may only occur once in a lifetime, after which the person can return to normal functioning and their lives without impairments.

There were only about 50% chances of experiencing a second episode of brief psychosis in those with a brief psychotic disorder.

Prevalence

It is thought to occur relatively infrequently in the general population, although very few studies have been conducted on brief psychotic disorders. According to a Finnish study, this condition occurs in .05% of the population.

The study found that only 10 out of 196 cases of psychosis in a psychiatric clinic in rural Ireland appeared to be brief psychotic disorder.

Populations under high stress appear to suffer from higher rates. Immigration, refugees and natural disaster victims are more prone to have brief psychotic episodes.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) study on Determinants of Outcomes of Mental Illness, the brief psychotic disorder is 10 times more common in developing countries than in industrialized ones. It is also more common among women and people with personality disorders.

Coping

Brief psychotic disorders can be successfully managed with education. The knowledge of symptoms and warning signs, as well as treatment options, can benefit individuals and their families.

Knowing what to do when symptoms return is important for families. When an individual with a brief psychotic disorder has a plan to access treatment, the chances of getting help increase.

A brief psychotic episode should also be explained to family members about the importance of monitoring the individual. Identifying when to call for help is crucial when a person may be suicidal or self-injuring.

Learning stress management strategies can help individuals with brief psychotic disorder cope with daily life. Psychotic episodes may be less likely to occur if you manage stress better.

Outlook

Most people recover fully from a brief psychotic disorder within one month according to its definition. Sometimes, it happens more than once for some people. Symptoms might be diagnosed as schizophrenia if they last more than six months.

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