What causes behavioral symptoms?

Abnormal brain chemistry, injury, or structural abnormalities may play a role in the development of behavioral symptoms. Genetics may play a role, as some conditions that have behavioral symptoms are more common in people who have a family history of mental illness or substance abuse. Environment factors, such as an unstable home life, child abuse, lack of supervision, and inconsistent discipline, also seem to contribute to some conditions associated with behavioral symptoms.

Diseases, disorders or conditions that interfere with thought processes, such as conduct disorders, dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and a number of personality disorders, can be associated with behavioral symptoms. Conditions that affect the brain can also have behavioral symptoms.

Psychiatric and cognitive causes of behavioral symptoms

Behavioral symptoms may be caused by psychiatric or cognitive diseases, disorders or conditions including:

  • Antisocial personality disorder (disordered perceptions and interactions with others)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum disorder or Asperger’s syndrome
  • Borderline personality disorder (disorder characterized by unstable relationships)
  • Conduct disorder (behavior disorder in children)
  • Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (disorder characterized by extreme anger)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (pattern of defiance and hostile behavior toward authority figures)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance abuse

Other causes of behavioral symptoms

Behavioral symptoms can also be caused by other diseases, disorders or conditions including:

  • Brain tumors
  • Head injury
  • Lead poisoning

Serious or life-threatening causes of behavioral symptoms

In some cases, behavioral symptoms may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Acute delirium (sudden onset of mental status changes due to illness or toxicity)
  • Alcohol or drug intoxication or withdrawal
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Mania (elevated mood and energy levels that can occur in bipolar disorder)
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injury

Questions for diagnosing the cause of behavioral symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your behavioral symptoms including:

  • When did you first notice the behavioral symptoms?
  • Which behavioral symptoms have you noticed?
  • Have they created problems at home, in school, or at work?
  • Have they caused any financial or legal problems?
  • Are any other symptoms present?
  • What medications are you using?
  • Are you drinking alcohol?
  • Are you using any illicit drugs?

What are the potential complications of behavioral symptoms?

Because behavioral symptoms can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage, memory loss, attention difficulties, and impaired judgment
  • Developmental delays
  • Difficulties at work, in school, in social environments, and with relationships
  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse
  • Drug overdose or alcohol poisoning
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Law violations and legal troubles
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide or violence

References:

Child behavior disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/childbehaviordisorders.html. Accessed May 28, 2011.

Conduct disorder. PubMed Health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001917/. Accessed May 28, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What are the signs of behavioral problems?

Behavior is an action or reaction to the environment or to internal thoughts and emotions. Behavioral symptoms are persistent or repetitive behaviors that are unusual, disruptive, inappropriate, or cause problems. Aggression, criminal behavior, defiance, drug use, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, inattention, secrecy, and self-harm are examples of behavioral symptoms.... Read more about behavioral symptomsintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with behavioral symptoms?

Behavioral symptoms may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that frequently affect behavior may also involve other body systems.... Read more about behavioral symptomssymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mental Health and Behavior