Lab Tests for Psychosis or Schizophrenia

The difference between psychosis and schizophrenia

Psychosis and schizophrenia are sometimes used interchangeably in ordinary language. And even though both terms are linguistic antiques (and need to be changed), “psychosis” and “schizophrenia” are medical terms with specific meanings. So let’s clarify them before talking about lab tests.

Psychosis is a neurological symptom. It involves unusual beliefs or experiences. These beliefs or experiences are often anxious, suspicious or paranoid. Sometimes they are fun, exhilarating or grandiose. The unusual experiences of psychosis often involve hallucinations. Auditory hallucinations are the most common type, but the hallucinations can occur in senses like smell, sight, taste or touch. Other unusual experiences can involve the feeling of reading some else’s thoughts, or feeling that someone can read yours. Some people experiencing psychosis might get the feeling of getting special messages from newspapers, televisions, or computers – or might discern hidden meanings in the words or actions of others. These particular signs of psychosis usually seem incomprehensible to the casual observer. But the signs of psychosis are understandable when one realizes that these are ways that the conscious mind tries to make sense of misperceptions coming from the brain. Check out this blog post for a more detailed explanation of how psychosis works.

Psychosis is a neurological symptom (Yes, I said this earlier but it’s worth emphasizing). Like fever, psychosis can last for a short time or a long time. Like fever, psychosis has many different causes. Many of those causes are side effects from medications or from recreational drugs. High levels of stress can cause psychosis. And over 50 different medical illnesses can produce psychosis as one of their symptoms. Like fever, it’s a good idea to figure out the cause whenever possible.

Schizophrenia is a form of long-term psychosis that can’t be explained by a known medical disease or other cause. In medical thinking, schizophrenia is a “diagnosis of exclusion” – in other words, you can’t diagnose someone with schizophrenia unless you’ve considered and excluded other explanations for the symptoms.


Lab tests for psychosis or schizophrenia

Considering other explanations for psychosis or schizophrenia-like symptoms is important. Studies have shown that between 6% to 12% of people with presumed schizophrenia will have a medical disease producing the symptoms.

If you’d like to know more about the medical evaluation, imaging studies, and lab tests that should be done to detect medical causes of psychosis or schizophrenia-like symptoms, you can watch me lecture about it on YouTube, or you can download the slides from the talk.


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