Mental and Emotions

Organic Brain Syndrome

Organic brain syndrome (OBS) is a general term that describes physical conditions that might result in damage to the brain. It does not refer to any particular disease. It is used for describing decreased mental function and impairment of cognitive abilities.
This term was conceptualized by the psychiatrists for diagnosing the conditions of the brain. If during the diagnosis, psychiatrists couldn’t observe any physical damage to the brain, they referred to the disorder as a functional disorder. When they found changes in the physical condition of the brain, they classified such conditions under OBS. Narrowing down the diagnosis to a specific disorder helped in ascertaining the treatment.

Since OBS is not a specific disease, the symptoms will vary, depending of the underlying cause. Many disorders associated with this syndrome might have some symptoms in common, which is why the task of ascertaining the specific disorder becomes even more important. Some common symptoms of this syndrome are:

  • Confusion
  • Dementia
  • Agitation
  • Impairment of cognitive functions
  • Delirium
Though OBS has been observed in the elderly, it is not specifically related to aging. The common causes include trauma, exposure to neurotoxins, and brain injuries. It can be classified into acute OBS and chronic OBS. If a person is diagnosed with the latter, his/her cognitive abilities and brain function will undergo changes with time. These changes could be both neurological or psychological in nature.

The symptoms of severe organic brain syndrome might include:

  • Loss of memory
  • Difficulty in walking or speaking
  • Damage to intellectual abilities
  • Agitation or personality changes

In case of the former, there’s a sudden onset of symptoms. Sometimes, acute OBS can be caused due to intoxication, drug overdose, infections or other conditions that may have an effect on the brain’s function. Though acute OBS is temporary, it could take the form of chronic OBS due to the release of certain toxins by overuse of certain drugs. In some cases, excessive intake of alcohol could lead to alcoholic dementia.

Disorders Associated with OBS

Conditions associated with organic mental disorder include degenerative brain diseases, infections, respiratory conditions, traumatic brain injury, or cardiovascular disorders. These include:

  • Septicemia
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Endocrine abnormalities
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney diseases
  • Stroke
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Heart infection
  • Dementia due to strokes and hypertensive brain injury
  • Hypoxia (decreased oxygen levels in the body)
  • Hypercapnia (increased carbon dioxide levels in the body)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Pick disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Creutzfeld-Jacob disease
Clinical depression and various types of psychoses or neuroses could also occur in a person diagnosed with this syndrome. In case of children, OBS could exist in various types of dementia such as Niemann-Pick disease, Batten disease, and Lafora body disease. Being associated with such a large number of disorders adds an element of vagueness to this term, which has made this term obsolete to some extent.
CT scan, brain MRI scan, EEG (electroencephalogram), and blood tests are some of the diagnostic tests and procedures that can help doctors to narrow down the diagnosis to a particular disorder that may be categorized under OBS. Once the underlying cause has been identified, doctors can prescribe drugs for the treatment. In case of chronic OBS, loss of brain function and personality changes make it extremely important to provide support to the patient and monitor his/her health.

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