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Personality disorders

Definition

Personality disorders are a group of psychiatric conditions in which a person's long-term (chronic) behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are very different from their culture's expectations and cause serious problems with relationships and work.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The causes of personality disorders are unknown. However, many genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role.

Mental health professionals categorize these disorders into the following types:

Symptoms

Symptoms vary widely depending on the type of personality disorder.

In general, personality disorders involve feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that do not adapt to a wide range of settings.

These patterns usually begin in adolescence and may lead to problems in social and work situations.

The severity of these conditions ranges from mild to severe.

Signs and tests

Personality disorders are diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation and the history and severity of the symptoms.

Treatment

At first, people with these disorders usually do not seek treatment on their own. They tend to seek help once their behavior has caused severe problems in their relationships or work, or when they are diagnosed with another psychiatric problem, such as a mood or substance abuse disorder.

Although personality disorders take time to treat, there is increasing evidence that certain forms of talk therapy can help many people. In some cases, medications can be a useful addition to therapy.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook varies. Some personality disorders go away during middle age without any treatment, while others only improve slowly throughout life, even with treatment.

Complications

  • Problems with relationships
  • Problems with career
  • Other psychiatric disorders

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider or mental health professional if you or someone close to you has symptoms of a personality disorder.

References

Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 39.


Review Date: 11/14/2010
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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