What Is The Prodrome: Signs & Symptoms

Author: The Staglin Music Festival Center for the Assessment and Prevention of Prodromal States (CAPPS)

What Is The Prodrome? 

The “prodromal syndrome” is not a diagnosis, but the technical term used by mental health professionals to describe a specific group of symptoms that may precede the onset of a mental illness. For example, a fever is “prodromal” to measles, which means that a fever may be a risk factor for developing this illness. However, not everyone who has a fever goes on to develop measles. In order to prevent measles from developing, you would try to get rid of your fever and take care of any other symptoms you might have. At CAPPS, we focus on taking care of symptoms that may precede the onset of psychosis.

Psychosis affects between 1% and 3% of the population, and typically emerges between the ages of 15 and 30. The prodromal phase of psychosis may last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of years. During this time, individuals experience symptoms of psychosis at mild or moderate levels of intensity, or for short periods of time. Individuals and their families may also notice changes in functioning, such as trouble with school or work and social withdrawal or anxiety.

It is important to note that just because an individual is “prodromal” does not mean that they will go on to develop psychosis. You would not assume that someone is inevitably developing measles simply because they have a fever. Likewise, you should not assume that someone will inevitably go on to develop psychosis simply because they are experiencing prodromal symptoms.

Signs & Symptoms

While each person’s prodrome is unique, there are some common themes to look out for.
Early signs and symptoms can include any of the following: 

Unusual Thinking

    • Confusion about what is real and what is imaginary
  • Suspiciousness or paranoid thinking
  • Feeling that your ideas are or behaviors are being controlled by outside forces
  • Unrealistic ideas of special identity or abilities
  • Preoccupation with the supernatural

Perceptual Disturbances

  • Sensitivity to sounds, easily distracted by background noises
  • Hearing things that other people don’t hear
  • Seeing things that others don’t see
  • Smelling, tasting, or feeling unusual sensations that other people don’t experience

Negative Symptoms

  • Wanting to spend more time alone
  • Not feeling motivated to do things
  • Trouble understanding conversations or written materials
  • Difficulty identifying and expressing emotions

Disorganized Symptoms

  • Trouble with attention
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Odd appearance or behavior
  • Laughing at odd or inappropriate times
  • Problems with communication: vague, confused, muddled, racing or slow speech, difficulty staying on track or getting to the point

Mood Symptoms

  • Sadness, emptiness, or irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure
  • Physical symptoms (tiredness, weight gain/loss, aches and pains)
  • Sleep problems
  • Thoughts of death and/or suicide
  • Elevated mood: excitement, feeling high or “hyper”
  • Racing thoughts
  • Distractibility, talkativeness
  • Increased activity
  • Irritability
  • Inflated self-esteem or feelings of self-importance
  • Decreased need for sleep

Anxiety Symptoms

  • Constant fear or worry
  • Excessive social anxiety
  • Panic Attacks
  • Agoraphobia (fear of leaving home)

Impairment in Functioning

  • Decline in functioning
  • Problems in relationships with friends or family

About Author:

The Staglin Music Festival Center for the Assessment and Prevention of Prodromal States (CAPPS) is a research clinic associated with the departments of Psychology and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. CAPPS is funded by the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health, the nation’s leading charity event aimed at finding ways to treat and ultimately cure mental illness through brain research, and grants from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH). The CAPPS research center works with individuals between the ages of 12 and 35 who might be at risk for developing a thought disorder.