Psychosis occurs when a person loses contact with reality. The person may:
- Have false beliefs about what is taking place, or who one is (delusions)
- See or hear things that are not there (hallucinations)
Medical problems that can cause psychosis include:
Alcohol and certain illegal drugs, both during use and during withdrawal
Alcohol use disorder is when your drinking causes serious problems in your life, yet you keep drinking. You may also need more and more alcohol to f...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Brain diseases, such as Parkinson disease and Huntington disease
Parkinson disease results from certain brain cells dying. These cells help control movement and coordination. The disease leads to shaking (tremors...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Huntington disease (HD) is a genetic disorder in which nerve cells in certain parts of the brain waste away, or degenerate. The disease is passed do...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Brain tumors or cysts
Dementia (including Alzheimer disease)
Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects one or more brain functions such as memory, thinking, language, j...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. Alzheimer disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. It affects memo...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- HIV and other infections that affect the brain
- Some prescription drugs, such as steroids and stimulants
- Some types of epilepsy
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures over time. Seizures are episodes of uncontrolled and abnormal firing of brain c...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Psychosis may also be found in:
- Most people with schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it hard to tell the difference between what is real and not real. It also makes it hard to think clearl...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Some people with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive) or severe depression
Bipolar disorder is a mental condition in which a person has wide or extreme swings in their mood. Periods of feeling sad and depressed may alternat...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Some personality disorders
A person with psychosis may have any of the following:
- Disorganized thought and speech
- False beliefs that are not based on reality (delusions), especially unfounded fear or suspicion
- Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)
Hallucinations involve sensing things such as visions, sounds, or smells that seem real but are not. These things are created by the mind.Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Thoughts that "jump" between unrelated topics (disordered thinking)
Exams and Tests
Psychiatric evaluation and testing are used to diagnose the cause of the psychosis.
Laboratory testing and brain scans may not be needed, but sometimes can help pinpoint the diagnosis. Tests may include:
- Blood tests for abnormal electrolyte and hormone levels
Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge. Electrolytes affect how your body functions in many ways...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Blood tests for syphilis and other infections
Blood tests for syphilis
The VDRL test is a screening test for syphilis. It measures substances (proteins), called antibodies, which your body may produce if you have come i...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
- Drug screens
MRI of the brain
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is an imaging test that uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the body. It does not us...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Treatment depends on the cause of the psychosis. Care in a hospital is often needed to ensure the person's safety.
Antipsychotic drugs, which reduce hallucinations and delusions and improve thinking and behavior, are helpful.
How well a person does depends on the cause of the psychosis. If the cause can be corrected, the outlook is often good. In this case, treatment with antipsychotic medicine may be brief.
Some chronic conditions, such as schizophrenia, may need lifelong treatment with antipsychotic drugs to control symptoms.
Psychosis can prevent people from functioning normally and caring for themselves. Left untreated, people can sometimes harm themselves or others.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your health care provider or mental health professional if you or a member of your family is losing contact with reality. If there is any concern about safety, take the person to the emergency room to be seen by a doctor.
Prevention depends on the cause. For example, avoiding alcohol prevents psychosis caused by alcohol use.
American Psychiatric Association. Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders. In: American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013:87-122.
Freudenreich 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.
Review Date: 4/30/2022
Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.