Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA
760-242-1234


James Krider, MD


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Personality change

Different situations and events normally produce a range of emotional reactions in healthy people. An individual's responses to these feelings make up his or her personality.

When people show their emotions in uncharacteristic ways — for example, when a normally mild individual becomes violent and abusive or a highly controlled person begins to cry with slight provocation — an underlying physical or emotional disorder may be the cause. Likewise, abrupt shifts in mood with no apparent link to specific events can signal a wide range of medical and psychiatric disorders. Among the possible causes of personality change are hormonal abnormalities, substance abuse, and medication side effects. Many other disorders, however, can also provoke changes in behavior and emotional response. Most of these disorders are fairly serious and require a doctor's attention.

Causes of personality change

Alcoholism
Anyone who drinks alcohol may exhibit radical changes of mood, shifting rapidly from euphoria to aggressive behavior to despair. Heavy drinking over a long period of time affects the central nervous system and the brain, leading to memory loss, disorientation, hallucinations, and various emotional disturbances.

Alzheimer's disease
An incurable disorder that mainly affects elderly people, Alzheimer's disease usually begins with memory problems and progresses to personality changes. Typically, the victim becomes apathetic, paranoid, depressed, and disoriented, and intellectual function diminishes. In some cases, the person also becomes violent.

Brain cancer
The symptoms of brain cancer vary depending on the tumor's type and location. Irritability, unusual sleepiness and fatigue, and other personality disturbances often occur.

Dementia
Dementia is a progressive and usually incurable loss of intellectual ability that sooner or later impairs the victim's capacity to function in the world. Memory, the ability to think rationally, the capacity for abstract thought, and the

Mood swings are common aspects of personality changes
Mood swings are common aspects of personality changes

personality are often affected.

Depression
Serious depression may last for months or even years, as opposed to a passing case of the blues or the sadness that everyone feels after a loss. Severe depression can make people lose interest in things they ordinarily enjoy or cause restlessness, irritability, thoughts of death or suicide, and even suicide attempts. People with manic-depression have extreme mood swings.

Drug abuse
Abuse of drugs often leads to major personality changes. The drug abuser may become secretive and display abrupt changes in mood or may seem unusually lethargic or highung.

Encephalopathy
This condition encompasses a variety of diseases and degenerative illnesses that affect the brain. It sometimes manifests itself in personality changes that include apathy, irritability and sudden mood swings.

Huntington's chorea
This inherited brain and nerve disorder may not appear until middle age. It gradually destroys brain cells, causing irritability, depression, and personality changes. Twitches and involuntary movements are also characteristic.

Korsakoff's syndrome
The end result of abusing alcohol for a long period, Korsakoff's syndrome causes severe impairment of memory. People who have this condition often fabricate experiences to hide their memory loss.

Medications
Personality changes can be caused by a number of medications taken to treat several different disorders.

Corticosteroids are among the most common medications to have this effect, but a number of other frequently used drugs can also cause mood changes. Any personality change that develops soon after an individual starts a new medication should be reported to the doctor so that the medication can be adjusted.

Menopause
The hormonal changes that accompany cessation of the menstrual periods may trigger a wide variety of emotional symptoms, although many women experience none of them. Some women suffer mood swings, nervousness, irritability, depression, and forgetfulness, all of which mimic a personality change.

Multiple personalities
People with this rare mental disorder can develop several distinct personalities in order to cope with severe stress, generally from abuse suffered in childhood. As each personality appears, the person seems to change dramatically.

Premenstrual syndrome
This is a group of physical and emotional changes that some women undergo each month just before menstruation. All the symptoms seem to be linked to hormonal fluctuations, but no specific hormonal trigger has been identified. Personality changes may include mood swings, depression, or sudden flare-ups of bad temper for no apparent reason.

Psychosis
A psychotic person is not in touch with reality and may exhibit bizarre behavior, reacting to hallucinations or delusional beliefs. People with mental disorders such as schizophrenia often exhibit psychotic personality changes.

Advice about personality change

  • If someone you know is
    exhibiting a personality
    change, encourage him or her to see a doctor or
    mental health professional.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Never take any drug unless it is prescribed by your doctor and report any side effects promptly.
This article was last reviewed November 12, 2005 by Dr. James Krider.
Reproduced in part with permission of Home Health Handbook.
Alcoholism
Alcoholic brain synd
Alzheimer's disease
Brain cancer
Dementia
Dementia, TIA
Depression
Depression, post-partum
Drug abuse
Encephalopathy
Huntington's chorea
Korsakoff's syndrome
Med's, asthma
Med's, blood pressure
Med's, steroid
Med's, tranquilizers
Menopause
Multiple personalities
PMS
Psychosis
Schizophrenia


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