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Psychosis is a general term which refers to any significant mental disorder that has a physical or emotional source. It is a severe disturbance in which a person is unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

What is going on in the body? 
Psychosis is considered a mental and behavioural disorder. It results in a significant distortion of a person's mental capacity. The person has problems recognising reality and relating to other people. These distortions are serious enough to interfere with the person's ability to deal with the normal demands of everyday life.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
The signs and symptoms of psychosis include:
  • loss of touch with reality
  • delusions, or false beliefs
  • illusions, or mistaken beliefs
  • seeing, hearing, or perceiving things that are not there
  • disorganised speech
  • excitement
  • confusion
  • depression
  • agitated and inattentive behaviour
What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Psychotic illnesses can have a physical or emotional cause. The causes include such disorders as:
  • Wernicke-Korsakoff's syndrome, a personality disorder that causes a wide variety of symptoms
  • senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease, which involve memory loss and other changes
  • drug- or alcohol-induced psychosis
  • manic depression
  • severe affective, or mood, disorders
  • schizophrenia
What can be done to prevent the condition? 
In general, there is no known way to prevent psychosis. Psychoses that are the result of drugs or alcohol use can be prevented by avoiding these substances.

How is the condition diagnosed? 
Psychosis is diagnosed based on the person's symptoms and how long the person has had them. Psychological evaluation and testing can help to pinpoint the exact type of psychosis. A cranial CT scan or cranial MRI may be done to help rule out other causes for the symptoms.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
The psychosis may prevent the person from functioning normally in society.

What are the risks to others? 
Psychosis is not contagious, but a person with psychosis may cause harm to others when he or she loses contact with reality.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
Treatment varies depending on the cause of the psychosis. Psychotherapy, medication, and hospitalisation are all helpful in treating psychosis.

During sudden flare-ups, the psychotic symptoms may be severe enough that the person needs to be protected. If suicide or homicide is part of the person's delusions, the person may need to be hospitalised. Antipsychotic medication such as haloperidol, thiothixene, trifluoperazine, and chlorpromazine may be helpful.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Potential side effects from antipsychotic medication can include:
  • muscle rigidity
  • prolonged muscle contractions
  • complete or partial loss of muscle movement
  • extreme slowness of movement
These medication side effects are generally uncommon. They will go away once the person stops taking the medication.

What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Psychosis can be controlled with treatment in some cases. The success of the treatment varies depending on the cause.

How is the condition monitored? 
Careful monitoring of the person is necessary. Medications need to be monitored to make sure that the correct dose is given. A doctor should be consulted if the person loses contact with reality, or has any new or worsening symptoms.

Author: Ann Reyes, Ph.D.
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 28/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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