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What is Thought Disorder: Types, Causes, Treatment, Diagnosis

What is a Thought Disorder?

A disorganized way of thinking that leads to abnormal language when speaking and writing is known as thought disorder. Thought disorder is a symptom of many mental disorders such as schizophrenia, mania, and depression.

Thought disorder is difficult to treat the condition as the patient presents the symptoms occasionally.

Types of Thought Disorder

Common types of thought disorders are:


People with alogia are seen giving brief and unelaborated responses to the questions asked. This type of thought disorder is seen in people suffering from dementia and schizophrenia.


People suffering from blocking type of thought disorder are seen interrupting themselves abruptly mid-sentence. They give a pause of several seconds or minutes while speaking something.

When they start the conversation again, they change the topic of conversation. Thought blocking is common in people with schizophrenia.


In this type people often include irrelevant details in their speaking or writing. They maintain the original train of thought but give a lot of unnecessary details before reaching the main point.

Circumstantiality is also known as circumstantial thinking or circumstantial speech.


A person with derailment talks, large chains in semi-related ideas. The ideas go beyond the topic of conversation.

This means if a person is talking about a dog, he would take the conversation to the hair on their head to your clothing.

Distractible speech

People with distractible speech thought disorder have difficulty in maintaining a topic. It is common in people with mania.

They switch between topics and are easily distracted by internal and external stimuli.

Such people while talking about a restaurant would suddenly start talking about you, having visited some other restaurant with you and its specialties.


People who have struggled in communication have echolalia thought disorder. They are found repeating words or noise they hear.

Other Types Of Thought Disorder

  • Paraphasic error: Constant slip of tongue and mispronunciation of words
  • Stilted speech: Using unusual language that would be outdate or over formal
  • Preservation: Speech involving repetition of ideas and words
  • Loss of goals: Difficulty in coming to a point or maintaining a topic
  • Neologism: Creating new words
  • Incoherence: Peaking in random word collection

Causes of Thought Disorder

Thought disorder is seen commonly occurring in those with schizophrenia or other mental health condition.

Schizophrenia does not have a known cause but is thought to be occurring due to genetic, biological, and environmental factors.

Research is still going on about what can cause symptoms of thought disorder.(1)

Thought disorder is thought to be caused by changes in a language-related part of the brain. It could also be problems with the general parts of the brain.

There are certain risk factors that can heighten the risk of developing thought disorder, such as:

People suffering from epilepsy have a higher risk of suffering from schizophrenia or psychosis. (2)

Also, traumatic brain injury increases the risk of developing schizophrenia and other mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder.(3)

Other risk factors of schizophrenia and therefore causing thought disorder are:

  • Stress
  • Toxic chemicals exposure before birth
  • Mind-altering drugs
  • Inflammatory and autoimmune disease

How Is Thought Disorder Diagnosed?

Test done to diagnose a thought disorder are:

Rorschach Inkblot Test: This test was invented by Hermann Rorschach in 1921.(4) In this test, a series of 10 inkblots are used to identify a potential thought disorder.

The inkblots are ambiguous and the patient’s interpretations are noted. The psychologist then interprets the patient’s response.

Thought Disorder Index: A medical professional scores the conversation, done with the patients on the thought disorder index.

Thought disorder index is also known as the delta index. It is able to measure 23 areas of potential thought disturbance and weighs it on scale zero to one.

Treatment of Thought Disorder

Treatment of thought disorder targets the underlying medical condition and the two major treatments are medication and psychotherapy.


Antipsychotic medications balance the brain chemical dopamine and serotonin. They can be prescribed depending on the cause of the disorder.


Psychotherapy helps people in replacing their thoughts with realistic ones and also makes them understand the ways to manage an illness.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of psychotherapy along with cognitive enhancement therapy, benefits people with schizophrenia.

If you think you or your known is suffering from this disorder, seek medical attention. Treatments can help effectively manage thought disorder symptoms.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:November 26, 2020

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