Hallucinations


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Hallucinations

 

Definition

Hallucinations are false or distorted sensory experiences that appear to be real perceptions. These sensory impressions are generated by the mind rather than by any external stimuli, and may be seen, heard, felt, and even smelled or tasted.

Description

A hallucination occurs when environmental, emotional, or physical factors such as stress, medication, extreme fatigue, or mental illness cause the mechanism within the brain that helps to distinguish conscious perceptions from internal, memory-based perceptions to misfire. As a result, hallucinations occur during periods of consciousness. They can appear in the form of visions, voices or sounds, tactile feelings (known as haptic hallucinations), smells, or tastes.
Patients suffering from dementia and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia frequently experience hallucinations. Hallucinations can also occur in patients who are not mentally ill as a result of stress overload or exhaustion, or may be intentionally induced through the use of drugs, meditation, or sensory deprivation. A 1996 report, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, noted that 37% of 4,972 people surveyed experienced hypnagogic hallucinations (hallucinations that occur as a person is falling to sleep). Hypnopomic hallucinations (hallucinations that occur just upon waking) were reported by 12% of the sample.

Causes and symptoms

Common causes of hallucinations include:
  • Drugs. Hallucinogenics such as ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine, or MDMA), LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide, or acid), mescaline (3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, or peyote), and psilocybin (4-phosphoryloxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine, or mushrooms) trigger hallucinations. Other drugs such as marijuana and PCP have hallucinatory effects. Certain prescription medications may also cause hallucinations. In addition, drug withdrawal may induce tactile and visual hallucinations; as in an alcoholic suffering from delirium tremens (DTs).
  • Stress. Prolonged or extreme stress can impede thought processes and trigger hallucinations.
  • Sleep deprivation and/or exhaustion. Physical and emotional exhaustion can induce hallucinations by blurring the line between sleep and wakefulness.
  • Meditation and/or sensory deprivation. When the brain lacks external stimulation to form perceptions, it may compensate by referencing the memory and form hallucinatory perceptions. This condition is commonly found in blind and deaf individuals.
  • Electrical or neurochemical activity in the brain. A hallucinatory sensation—usually involving touch—called an aura, often appears before, and gives warning of, a migraine. Also, auras involving smell and touch (tactile) are known to warn of the onset of an epileptic attack.
  • Mental illness. Up to 75% of schizophrenic patients admitted for treatment report hallucinations.
  • Brain damage or disease. Lesions or injuries to the brain may alter brain function and produce hallucinations.

Diagnosis

Aside from hypnogogic and hypnopompic hallucinations, more than one event suggests a person should seek evaluation. A general physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist will try to rule out possible organic, environmental, or psychological causes through a detailed medical examination and social history. If a psychological cause such as schizophrenia is suspected, a psychologist will typically conduct an interview with the patient and his family and administer one of several clinical inventories, or tests, to evaluate the mental status of the patient.
Occasionally, people who are in good mental health will experience a hallucination. If hallucinations are infrequent and transitory, and can be accounted for by short-term environmental factors such as sleep deprivation or meditation, no treatment may be necessary. However, if hallucinations are hampering an individual's ability to function, a general physician, psychologist, or psychiatrist should be consulted to pinpoint their source and recommend a treatment plan.

Treatment

Hallucinations that are symptomatic of a mental illness such as schizophrenia should be treated by a psychologist or psychiatrist. Antipsychotic medication such as thioridazine (Mellaril), haloperidol (Haldol), chlorpromazine (Thorazine), clozapine (Clozaril), or risperidone (Risperdal) may be prescribed.

Prognosis

In many cases, chronic hallucinations caused by schizophrenia or some other mental illness can be controlled by medication. If hallucinations persist, psychosocial therapy can be helpful in teaching the patient the coping skills to deal with them. Hallucinations due to sleep deprivation or extreme stress generally stop after the cause is removed.

Resources

Organizations

American Psychological Association (APA). 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. (202) 336-5700. ttp://www.apa.org.
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Colonial Place Three, 2107 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 300, Arlington, VA 22201-3042. (800) 950-6264. http://www.nami.org.

Key terms

Aura — A subjective sensation or motor phenomenon that precedes and indicates the onset of a neurological episode, such as a migraine or an epileptic seizure.
Hypnogogic hallucination — A hallucination, such as the sensation of falling, that occurs at the onset of sleep.
Hypnopompic hallucination — A hallucination that occurs as a person is waking from sleep.
Sensory deprivation — A situation where an individual finds himself in an environment without sensory cues. Also, (used here) the act of shutting one's senses off to outside sensory stimuli to achieve hallucinatory experiences and/or to observe the psychological results.

Patient discussion about Hallucinations

Q. Give life to her please! Here is a really confusing question to you all. But your reply is a life for her. I know someone who is bipolar and she thinks that her ‘brother’ sexually molested her when they were kids. Can this be a delusion? Or hallucinating?

A. Im going to answer this question a little different;What if she is telling the truth,and her brother is planning on no body believing her? because she has this disease?---keep that in mind when you take her to the DR--mrfoot56

More discussions about Hallucinations
References in classic literature ?
Louis, with his eyes open, could not resist the deception of this cruel hallucination.
You can force me to talk as if this feeling for you were an hallucination, but all our feelings are that.
Casaubon must have raised some heroic hallucination in her.
Presently he began to hate them and there formed within his half-delirious brain the hallucination that the hills were German hills, that they had slain someone dear to him, whom he could never quite recall, and that he was pursuing to slay them.
For a while they would have doubted your story, thinking it but the nervous hallucination of a woman--had you insisted it would have been too late to have rescued him by the time the ship could have been brought to a stop, and the boats lowered and rowed back miles in search of the unknown spot where the tragedy had occurred.
It was the young man who persists in some strange hallucination as to a certain Mademoiselle Violet.
Once, opening his eyes, he saw what he took to be an hallucination.
In a moment the entire family was at the place, but nothing was heard, and the voice was believed to be an hallucination caused by the mother's great anxiety and her disordered nerves.
You will call it an hallucination," Hawver said, "but that does not matter.
Tis a strange hallucination," says the man, turning to me as a more reasonable lunatic.
A sensation SEEMS to give us knowledge of a present physical object, while an image does not, except when it amounts to a hallucination, and in this case the seeming is deceptive.
But as this word was a monosyllable, which, however inoffensive when applied to the quadruped it denotes, is highly reprehensible when used in connection with females of unimpeachable character, many persons were inclined to believe that the young women laboured under some hallucination caused by excessive fear; and that their ears deceived them.