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Behavioral Symptoms


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What are the signs of behavioral problems?

Behavior is an action or reaction to the environment or to internal thoughts and emotions. Behavioral symptoms are persistent or repetitive behaviors that are unusual, disruptive, inappropriate, or cause problems. Aggression, criminal behavior, defiance, drug use, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, inattention, secrecy, and self-harm are examples of behavioral symptoms. Only 30% of children with developmental or behavior disorder are identified prior to starting school, meaning the majority of affected children miss out on the opportunity to participate in early intervention.

In children, behavioral symptoms may be indications of behavioral disorders, such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder. Behavioral symptoms can also be associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, or Asperger’s syndrome. Lead poisoning is another potential cause of behavior disorders in children. In adolescents and adults, behavioral symptoms can result from personality disorders or psychiatric illnesses. Traumatic brain injury and medical disorders that affect the brain can also cause behavioral symptoms.

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Substance abuse is another potential cause of behavioral symptoms, or may be a complication of conditions that cause behavioral symptoms. If it is a complication of another condition, substance abuse can make behavioral symptoms worse.

Behavioral symptoms can occasionally result from serious medical conditions that can have life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for symptoms, such as severe injury or thoughts of suicide and self harm. If your or your child’s behavioral symptoms are persistent, are causing other problems, or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Oct 16, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Child behavior disorders. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Conduct disorder. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
  3. Glascoe FP. Screening for developmental and behavioral problems. Ment Retard Dev Disabil Res Rev 2005; 11:173.