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Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders

Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are a group of serious illnesses that affect the mind. These illnesses alter a person's ability to think clearly, make good judgments, respond emotionally, communicate effectively, understand reality, and behave appropriately. When symptoms are severe, people with psychotic disorders have difficulty staying in touch with reality and often are unable to meet the ordinary demands of daily life. However, even severe psychotic disorders usually are treatable.

There are different types of psychotic disorders, including:

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  • Schizophrenia: People with this illness have changes in behavior and other symptoms -- such as delusions and hallucinations -- that last longer than six months, usually with a decline in work, school, and social functioning.
  • Schizoaffective disorder: People with this illness have symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Schizophreniform disorder: People with this illness have symptoms of schizophrenia, but the symptoms last between one and six months.
  • Brief psychotic disorder: People with this illness have sudden, short periods of psychotic behavior, often in response to a very stressful event, such as a death in the family. Recovery is often quick -- usually less than a month.
  • Delusional disorder: People with this illness have a delusion (a false, fixed belief) involving real-life situations that could be true, such as being followed, being conspired against, or having a disease. These delusions persist for at least one month.
  • Shared psychotic disorder (also called folie à deux) : This illness occurs when one person in a relationship has a delusion that the other person in the relationship adopts for him or herself.
  • Substance-induced psychotic disorder: This condition is caused by the use of or withdrawal from some substances, such as hallucinogens and crack cocaine, that may cause hallucinations, delusions, or confused speech.
  • Psychotic disorder due to a medical condition: Hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms may be the result of another illness that affects brain function, such as a head injury or brain tumor.
  • Paraphrenia: This is a type of schizophrenia that starts late in life and occurs in the elderly population.

What Are the Symptoms of a Psychotic Disorder?

Symptoms of a psychotic disorder vary from person to person and may change over time. The major symptoms are hallucinations and delusions.

Hallucinations are unusual sensory experiences or perceptions of things that aren't actually present, such as seeing things that aren't there, hearing voices, smelling odors, having a "funny" taste in your mouth, and feeling sensations on your skin even though nothing is touching your body.

Delusions are false beliefs that are persistent and organized, and that do not go away after receiving logical or accurate information. For example, a person who is certain his or her food is poisoned, even if it has been proven that the food is fine, is suffering from 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

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