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Alternative names

Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, typically including delusions (false ideas about what is taking place or who one is) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things which aren't there).

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Psychosis is a severe mental condition characterized by a loss of contact with reality. There are numerous potential causes:

  • alcohol and certain drugs can induce psychosis
  • bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • brain tumors
  • epilepsy
  • psychotic depression
  • schizophrenia
  • dementia (Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain disorders)
  • stroke


  • loss of touch with reality
  • seeing, hearing, feeling, or otherwise perceiving things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • disorganized thought and/or speech
  • emotion is exhibited in an abnormal manner
  • extreme excitement (mania)
  • confusion
  • depression and sometimes suicidal thoughts
  • unfounded fear/suspicion
  • mistaken perceptions (illusions)
  • false beliefs (delusions)

Signs and tests

Psychological evaluation and testing helps to pinpoint the exact diagnosis related to the psychosis.

Laboratory or radiological testing is usually not helpful. However, sometimes such tests can help to pinpoint the exact diagnosis. This may include:
  • MRI of the brain
  • tests for syphilis
  • drug screens


Treatment varies depending on the cause of the psychosis. Care in a hospital is often needed to ensure safety of the patient. Drugs that diminish auditory hallucinations and delusions and stabilize thinking and behavior (antipsychotic drugs) are helpful. Group or individual therapy can also be useful.

Expectations (prognosis)

The expectations for the outcome vary with the specific disorder. Many of the symptoms can be controlled with long-term treatment.


Psychosis prevents a person from functioning normally. During psychotic states, there is an inability to care for self, and the possibility of self-harm or harm to others if the condition is left untreated.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider or mental health professional if a member of your family exhibits behavior that shows the person has lost contact with reality. Alternatively, take the person to the nearest emergency room for evaluation.


Prevention depends on the cause. For example, preventing alcohol abuse avoids alcohol induced psychosis.

Update Date: 6/3/2002

Angela Smyth, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT