What causes hearing voices?

The specific cause of hallucinations, including hearing voices, is not known, but they can be associated with some psychiatric disorders or medical conditions. Substance abuse, medication side effects, sensory loss, sleep deprivation, and severe fatigue can also be associated with hearing voices.

Psychiatric causes of hearing voices

Hearing voices may be caused by psychiatric conditions including:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Psychotic depression (depression with disordered thought processes)
  • Schizoid personality disorder (disorder characterized by detachment and isolation)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Schizotypal personality disorder (disorder characterized by a need for isolation, odd beliefs, and disordered thinking)

Other causes of hearing voices

Hearing voices can have other causes including:

  • Brain tumors
  • Delirium
  • Dementia
  • Hearing loss
  • Medication side effects
  • Seizure disorders
  • Severe fatigue
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Substance abuse

Serious or life-threatening causes of hearing voices

In some cases, hearing voices 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)
  • Seizure
  • Severe infection
  • Stroke

Questions for diagnosing the cause of hearing voices

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

  • When did you first hear voices?
  • What do the voices say?
  • Did any events or stresses occur before you started hearing voices?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Do you have any psychiatric or medical problems?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • Do you drink any alcohol?
  • Are you using any illicit drugs?

What are the potential complications of hearing voices?

Because hearing voices 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
  • Coma
  • 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
  • Legal or financial troubles
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide or violence

References:

Hallucinations. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm. Accessed May 29, 2011.

Hallucinations. Alzheimer’s Association. http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_hallucinations.asp. Accessed May 29, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What is hearing voices?

Hearing voices is a common type of auditory hallucination; hallucinations are sensations or perceptions that occur in a wakeful state and seem real, but are created by the brain. The voices in auditory hallucinations can be pleasant or threatening.... Read more about hearing voicesintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with hearing voices?

Hearing voices may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the brain may also involve other body systems.... Read more about hearing voicessymptoms

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