A formal thought disorder, or thought disorder, is a medical term used by doctors to describe thought that manifests itself through disorganized or incoherent writing or speech. This disorder can present itself in several ways, making it difficult for a patient to communicate effectively. Although a thought disorder is usually associated with a psychotic mental illness, patients with other medical conditions can also exhibit symptoms.
It is believed that disordered thought typically results in disordered language. During times of extreme duress, some people may show some signs of a thought disorder, such as incoherence, but this condition is typically temporary. When a person exhibits these symptoms on a regular basis with no brain injury or traumatic events, however, that person is then believed to have a thought disorder.
A patient with a thought disorder often confuses others when he tries to speak or write. Speech may be delayed or he may rapidly jump from one idea to another, as if he's losing his train of thought. Confusing or garbled statements that make almost no sense are another sign of a possible thought disorder.
Trouble staying on one topic or even remembering what was being said is one possible sign of a thought disorder. For example, blocking occurs when a patient is talking about something in particular and suddenly stops, usually because he has forgotten what was being discussed. Derailment happens when a person is talking about one subject and segues quickly into a completely different one. Distractible speech is similar, but instead of a smooth transition into an unrelated topic, the patient will often stop in the middle of what he was saying and begin talking about something else that has distracted him at that moment.
General incoherence, or schizophasia, is another possible sign of a thought disorder. It is commonly known as word salad, and patients with this symptom often make little or no sense to those with whom they are trying to communicate. Many times, it may seem as though random words are strung together in a sentence or paragraph. In some cases, the words that are put together pertain to one subject.
This disorder is usually believed to be a symptom of psychosis, which is often caused by schizophrenia or other similar mental disorders. The underlying cause of this disorder may be misdiagnosed, however, because of this. Signs of a thought disorder may be present in other medical conditions, including brain tumors or trauma, dementia, autism, and Tourette's syndrome.
Treating thought disorders typically involves treating the underlying causes. Certain medications have proven to successfully reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms, and these are usually paired with therapy, which helps a patient understand and control the disorder. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required.