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    What Is a Psychotic Disorder?

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    Symptoms continued...

    Hallucinations means seeing, hearing, or feeling things that don’t exist. For instance, someone might see things that aren't there, hear voices, smell odors, have a "funny" taste in their mouth, or feel sensations on their skin even though nothing is touching their body.

    Delusions are false beliefs that don’t go away after even after they've been shown to be false. For example, a person who is certain his or her food is poisoned, even if someone has shown them that the food is fine, has a delusion.

    Other possible symptoms of psychotic illnesses include:

    • Disorganized or incoherent speech
    • Confused thinking
    • Strange, possibly dangerous behavior
    • Slowed or unusual movements
    • Loss of interest in personal hygiene
    • Loss of interest in activities
    • Problems at school or work and with relationships
    • Cold, detached manner with the inability to express emotion
    • Mood swings or other mood symptoms, such as depression or mania

    People don’t always have the same symptoms, and they can change over time in the same person.


    Doctors don't know the exact cause of psychotic disorders. Researchers believe that many things play a role. Some psychotic disorders tend to run in families, which means that the disorder may be partly inherited. Other things may also influence their development, including stress, drug abuse, and major life changes.

    People with certain psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, may also have problems in parts of the brain that control thinking, perception, and motivation.

    In schizophrenia, experts believe that nerve cell receptors that work with a brain chemical called glutamate may not work properly in specific brain regions. That glitch may contribute to problems with thinking and perception. 

    These conditions usually first appear when a person is in his or her late teens, 20s, or 30s. They tend to affect men and women about equally.


    To diagnose a psychotic disorder, doctors will talk to the person, give them a checkup, and consider whether something else might be to blame for the symptoms. The person may get blood tests and brain imaging (such as MRI scans) to rule out physical illness or drug use like cocaine or LSD.

    If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, he or she may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals will use specially designed interview and assessment tools to decide whether the person has a psychotic disorder.

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