Organic brain syndrome: what it is, causes and associated symptoms

Among the clinical pictures associated with various alterations in cognitive activity is organic brain syndrome. Although it is a term, it has fallen into disuse in some contexts; it is a category specially used to relate psychiatric manifestations to the functioning of organic structures.

In this article we will see what organic brain syndrome isWith what other names do we already know what mental and physiological states it refers to?

    What is organic brain syndrome?

    Organic brain syndrome is also known by the following names: organic brain disease, organic brain disorder, organic mental syndrome, or organic mental disorder. It is characterized by being a condition whose cause is related to physiological structure, Rather than with pure mental activity (this is why we speak of “organic” syndrome).

    This is not a specific diagnostic criterion, but a general classification, which includes a set of clinical manifestations, the common feature of which is that they are caused or related to physical structures.

    In other words, there are medical conditions that directly alter the physiological activity of the nervous system. This alteration can be made visible in behavior, mood or subjective and cognitive experiences (such as in your thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, sensations, etc.).

    In some cases, the above causes clinically significant discomfort, so that a psychiatric diagnosis may be resorted to. With the intention of perform an assessment and intervention that takes physiological elements into account which may be at the origin of the behaviors or the cognitive activity at the origin of this discomfort, the category of organic brain syndrome has been created. However, although this is a very common concept within the psychiatric clinic, it is currently undergoing some modifications.

      Types and causes

      Two main types of organic brain syndrome have been recognized, which they are distinguished mainly by the time of their appearance.

      1. Acute

      This means that it is a recently emerged state of mind. This can be caused for intoxication or overdose of psychoactive substances, infections and medical illnesses affecting the nervous system. These are usually temporary episodes, although they can occur on different occasions. For example, this can be the case with delirium.

      2. Chronicle

      These are the manifestations that persist over the long term. Usually, in the case of chronic dependence on psychoactive substances such as drugs or alcohol, toxic effects on brain structures can significantly impair neuronal and cognitive functions. the same may be the case for neurodegenerative disordersDifferent types of dementia or ot occur as a result of cardiovascular events.

      Origin of the concept and associated symptoms

      In the context of modern psychiatry, the term “organic brain syndrome” (and its synonyms) has been used to differentiate purely mental etiology, and the etiology was clearly related to physiological functioning. However, with later knowledge and theories about how the human mind works and its relationship to the two brain structures, such a distinction has been increasingly discarded.

      Said in the words of Ganguli, Black, Blazer et al. (2011), the term “organic” suggested that there was a known brain structure and the cause of certain manifestations. This structure was different from another, called “functional” and encompassing all manifestations that had a purely mental etiology.

      But with the development and transformation of cognitive science and neuroscience, psychiatry rejected the false disconnect between organic and inorganic functional structures, which ultimately resulted in a distinction between mental and brain manifestations. Currently, psychiatry maintains that the brain (organic structures) is in fact the basis of mental or functional structures.

      However, the term organic brain syndrome continues to be used to describe states of consciousness and their relationship to various physiological-type elements and causes. As with the medical categories, the latter facilitates communication between experts, in particular those who have been trained in the psychiatric tradition where the category of “organic brain syndrome” allow different research and clinical approaches.

      For example, the journal Rheumatology (cited in Scienceirect, 2018), in its sixth version, defines organic brain syndrome as a state of brain dysfunction associated with changes in consciousness, cognition, affection or mood; caused by behavior during abstinence; by infections or by metabolic causes.

      Suggestions from the Neurocognitive Disorders Working Group

      For its part, the American Psychological Association’s Working Group on Neurocognitive Disorders, which was incorporated to form the fifth version of its Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, accepted the use of the term “neurocognitive” to refer to clinical manifestations where the mind acts as a result of alterations in the brain. Thus arises the classification of “neurocognitive disorders associated with medical causes” (eg, postoperative neurocognitive dysfunction.).

      In general, events that fall into this category they are visible in complex attention, learning and memory, Executive functions, language, visoconstructive perception and social cognition).

      Bibliographical references:

      • ScienceDirect (2018). Organic brain syndrome. Accessed August 1, 2018.Available at
      • Wikipedia (2018). Organic brain syndrome. Retrieved August 1, 2018. Available at
      • Ganguli, M., Blacker, D., Blazer, D. et al. (2011) Classification of Neurocognitive Disorders in DSM-5: A Work in Progress. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 19 (3): 205-210.
      • Chandrasekaran, P., Jambunathan, S. and Zainal (2005). Characteristics of patients with organic brain syndromes: a 2-year cross-sectional follow-up study in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Annals of General Psychiatry (4) 9. DOI 10.1186 / 1744-859X-4-9.

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