Brief Psychotic Disorder

What is Brief Psychotic Disorder?

Brief Psychotic Disorder, also known as Brief Reactive Psychosis, is on the spectrum with Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It is different from other disorders on the spectrum because it is characterized by psychotic symptoms that last only for a short time, usually not more than a month in all.

In a few cases, Brief Psychotic episodes can be the start of a more dire disorder, such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder if the episodes continue and the symptoms last for over 6 months. Brief Psychotic disorder is considered extremely rare. It even rarer for it to occur a second time, but it has happened.

The medical field recognizes three types of Brief Psychotic disorder:

  1. Brief Psychotic Disorder with known stressors
  2. Brief Psychotic Disorders without known stressors
  3. Post-Partum Brief Psychotic Disorder (only affecting women who have given birth)

Stressors are events that occur which are too much for the individual to cope with. Things like accidents or the death of a loved one can be considered a stressor that could cause the onset of psychosis. To determine what type of brief reactive psychosis the individual has, the stressor must be identified or illuminated. In the case of the Post-Partum version of this disorder, the stressor is most likely brought on by giving birth, the stresses of a new baby, and the life changes that follow. The process of giving birth is extremely painful and can have a traumatic effect on some women, resulting in Brief Psychotic Disorder.

When it comes to the statistics, the most common ages affected are those between 20 and 40 years old. There have been known cases in patients older than this but it is much less common. In addition to age, gender has been the focus of many studies, both in the United States and internationally. In one international study, Brief Psychotic Disorder was found to be twice as common in women as in men, and US studies also confirm that this disorder is twice as likely to occur in women.

In almost all cases, all of these symptoms and side effects will eventually subside and the patient will return to normal functioning ability. This can take from as little as a day all the way up to one month. Very few cases have ever lasted longer than a month or two. However, people with pre-diagnosed personality disorders, such as schizophrenia, are more predisposed to suffering from Brief Psychotic Disorder. It is important to keep track of your family history and know if anyone in your family has suffered from a psychotic break.

Symptoms of Brief Psychotic Disorder

There are many obvious symptoms of Brief Psychotic disorder which are similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia. The most prominent are delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are when a person believes something that is completely irrational to the common person, while patients with hallucinations will actually see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there. Both of these can be extremely dangerous.

There are many other symptoms that accompany the delusions and hallucinations. Some patients exhibit unusual or odd behavior. They will start behaving in a way that is very different from their personal norm and the societal norm. They may have mild to severe mood changes or mood swings or even go into a catatonic state where they do not move or respond to stimuli. Anger can be brought on by any sudden changes or disappointments.

Another side effect is an inability to take care of oneself. This involves even mundane day-to-day tasks like cooking and cleaning oneself. The patient may also show signs of confusion and memory loss. This may be related to the traumatic event that they experienced, causing them not to remember, or to even block the event from their mind. Another symptom is the inability to make decisions, due to the confusing nature of Brief Psychotic Disorder. Lastly, they may experience trouble sleeping, like insomnia, or they may feel more tired than is usual. Weight gain or weight loss can also be a symptom of this disorder.

To measure the severity of Brief Psychotic Disorder, the above symptoms are assessed and calculated on a scale that ranges from zero (nonexistent) to four (most severe). The most important symptoms to take into account are the delusions and/or hallucinations. One or both of these must be present in order for Brief Psychotic Disorder to be diagnosed. If these are not present, the medical professional will be able to run tests to determine the true cause of the occurring symptoms.

Brief Psychotic Disorder Causes

There are three types of Brief Psychotic Disorder, and they each have different causes.

In Brief Psychotic Disorder with known stressors, the cause is usually very apparent. The patient may have suffered a recent traumatic event which triggered the psychotic episode. For example, a person may experience extreme mental trauma when faced with the loss of a loved one. This can cause a short psychotic break. Other known stressors are extremely traumatic life events, conflicts within the family, the loss of a job, physical accidents such as car accidents, and severe illness. Most people will only have one such mental break in their lifetime, if ever. If this occurs continuously, it could be a sign of a bigger problem such as Schizophrenia. More than half of people have no further issues with the disorder, according to a European study.

Alternatively, when Brief Psychotic Disorder appears without known stressors, it can be much harder to determine the cause. It is theorized that there may be a hereditary predisposition to the disorder. They may also suffer from mental vulnerability, leading to the psychosis.

Post-Partum Brief Psychosis only affects women and usually follows for about a month after giving birth to a baby.

The specific criteria for Brief Psychotic Disorder is outlined below:

  • The patient has some of all of the following symptoms: delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and/or the patient is noticeably disoriented or suffering from catatonic behavior. In order for Brief Psychotic Disorder to be the diagnoses, the person has to at least be suffering from delusions or hallucinations.
  • The duration of an episode of psychosis is at least one day but does not last longer than one month. Afterward, the individual returns to a normal level of functioning with eventual full return to premorbid level of functioning.
  • The doctors have ruled out the possibilities of another major disorder such as depressive or bipolar disorder, catatonia or Schizophrenia. They must have also ruled out any medications as the cause of the psychosis.
  • Brief Psychotic Disorder is not fully understood in the medical field. Some doctors believe that there are genetic predispositions involved; while others theorize that it is something the brain uses as a coping mechanism during times of stress that are just too hard to cope with. As of now, these are just educated theories that have yet to be properly proven.

Treatment for Brief Psychotic Disorder

While this disorder is not common, doctors still have many treatment solutions available, ranging from therapy to medication. If you or someone you know is suffering from what you recognize as a psychotic episode, it may be Brief Psychotic Disorder. It is important to seek the help of a medical professional immediately. Often the person affected will be referred to a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and a psychiatric evaluation can determine whether or not the patient is, in fact, suffering from Brief Psychotic Disorder.

Both the psychologist and psychiatrist are essential in treating Brief Psychotic Disorder with both medicine and rehabilitative therapy. Often times the psychotic break is caused by an obvious stressor, like a traumatic event that was shocking. Many doctors will attempt to remove the stressor that caused the disorder, and the patient will return to a normal functioning state. However, if the stressor was the death of a loved one, more therapy will be used as it is not easy to remove that pain. Usually, the patient will have to attend therapy in order to overcome the intense emotions brought on by their loss.

The family is equally important in the patient’s recovery. Since their family can be greatly affected, it is important for them to learn as much as possible about this disorder and how they can help. They should educate themselves on the disorder as well as the medications used for treating it. The doctor should be able to give you plenty of advice on the subject, as well as answering any questions or concerns.

There is also a possibility that the patient may need to be hospitalized for a short time. This is not unusual in these situations and it is for the patient’s own safety as well as the safety of others. There are various forms of treatment ranging from psychotherapy to antipsychotic drugs. Some drugs used to treat this disorder are Aripiprazole, Paliperidone, Quetiapine, Lurasidone, Olanzapine, and even Risperidone. While the FDA has not yet approved any drugs specifically for this disorder, many of these antipsychotics have been known to work well.

The treatment doesn’t and shouldn’t stop after the psychosis has subsided, however. It is important to seek continued care in the form of counseling, group therapy, and also family therapy. The patient’s family is also affected by this disorder, and their healing should not be neglected. With continued after-care treatment, the chances of a psychotic state returning are very slim.

Brief Psychotic Disorder Prevention

There is some debate about whether there is any way to prevent this disorder from occurring, but mostly the consensus has been that there is no real way to prevent it from happening. It is so rare that doctors have not yet been able to determine the exact cause, making it hard to prevent future cases. One way to help prevent such an episode is to know your family’s mental health history. Since there may be a hereditary component it is important to know your family’s history from the start, especially when other psychotic disorders have occurred within the immediate family.

This disorder is extremely disorienting to the individual and can be very dangerous, resulting in suicide or violence, so it is very important to seek medical help as soon as the symptoms start to show. Call a medical professional at the first signs of hallucinations or delusions. If care is sought immediately, the person can return to a normal life with their loved ones fairly quickly and will most likely never have a Brief Psychotic Disorder again.

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Last Reviewed:
September 25, 2017
Last Updated:
November 21, 2017
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