Delusional Disorders

What are Delusional Disorders?

A delusional disorder is any mental illness that causes a patient to experience delusional thinking. A serious form of psychosis, people with this condition are unable to tell what is reality and what is imaginary. They firmly believe that something is happening when in fact their belief is untrue. It is not yet known what causes delusional disorders. However, there is research to suggest that there may be various genetic, environmental, psychological, and biological factors at work.

Delusions associated with the disorder are very often of the non-bizarre type, such as being poisoned, followed, conspired against, or deceived. Bizarre-type delusions are those that are unable to occur in reality and might involve aliens or thinking the radio is broadcasting one’s thoughts. Despite this behavior, patients can often function and socialize normally aside from the topic of their delusion.

Delusions typically fall into one of the following themes:

  • Erotomanic (someone, typically of high social standing, is in love with the individual)
  • Grandiose (individual has a great but unrecognized purpose)
  • Jealous (partner has been unfaithful)
  • Persecutory (being somehow mistreated)
  • Somatic (suffering from bizarre medical condition)
  • Mixed (any combination of these with none being dominant)
  • Unspecified (does not fit any of these themes)

What are the Symptoms of Delusional Disorders?

Some of the symptoms of delusional disorder may mimic other mental illnesses like schizophrenia. The most obvious indication that a person has the condition is the presence of one or more non-bizarre delusions. Additionally, patients may experience hallucinations related to their delusion as well as an angry or irritable mood.

Delusional Disorders Causes

There are a number of possible causes for this mental disorder. The exact cause in specific patients is generally unknown, but there are three main categories of causes that may be present. It is thought that genetic, environmental and biological factors are causes of delusional disorder, and patients may have more than one of these factors affecting their mental health. In some cases, there is a clear genetic link. The disorder is more common in patients who have a family member with this disorder or with another mental health issue. It is often spread from parents to their children.

A biological cause is suspected in some patients. This is often a malfunction in the areas of the brain that control thinking and perception. Environmental causes can include prolonged stress that can contribute to delusions and other mental health problems. Drug abuse appears to be another cause. People who are highly isolated, such as recent immigrants and those who have hearing and sight problems, are more likely to develop this disorder. A combination of factors, such as stress, a familial link and drug abuse, can lead to a case of this disorder. Some patients may not have a clear cause and develop this disorder spontaneously.

How are Delusional Disorders Treated?

To treat a delusional disorder, doctors often recommend psychotherapy and antipsychotic medications. Some cases are difficult to treat due to the patient being unable to recognize that a problem exists. Other options that may be used include family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Temporary hospitalization may be required if the patient is at risk of hurting himself or others.

Delusional Disorders Prevention

There is no way known to prevent delusional disorders. However, avoiding drug abuse is one way that some patients can avoid developing it. For most patients, prevention isn’t possible, so the course of treatment is to avoid flare-ups and the worsening of symptoms. The standard way to prevent the continuation of this disorder is to attend psychotherapy sessions. With this type of therapy, patients can learn about their delusions and the ways that they differ from reality. For many patients, taking antipsychotic medications can end the disorder completely as long as the medication is taken as prescribed. As long as the medication is taken, the disorder can be prevented from returning.

Last Reviewed:
October 05, 2016
Last Updated:
December 13, 2017