Health Information

Organic brain syndrome

Organic brain syndrome


OBS; Organic mental disorder (OMS); Chronic organic brain syndrome

Organic brain syndrome (OBS) is a general term that describes decreased mental function due to a medical disease other than a psychiatric illness. It is often used synonymously (but incorrectly) with dementia.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    Listed below are disorders associated with OBS.

    Brain injury caused by trauma

    • Bleeding into the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage)
    • Bleeding into the space around the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage)
    • Blood clot inside the skull causing pressure on brain (subdural hematoma)
    • Concussion

    Breathing conditions

    • Low oxygen in the body (hypoxia)
    • High carbon dioxide levels in the body (hypercapnia)

    Cardiovascular disorders

    • Dementia due to many strokes (multi-infarct dementia)
    • Heart infections (endocarditis, myocarditis)
    • Stroke
    • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

    Degenerative disorders

    • Alzheimer disease (also called senile dementia, Alzheimer's type)
    • Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease
    • Diffuse Lewy Body disease
    • Huntington disease
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Normal pressure hydrocephalus
    • Parkinson disease
    • Pick disease

    Dementia due to metabolic causes

    • Kidney disease
    • Liver disease
    • Thyroid disease (hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism)
    • Vitamin deficiency (B1, B12, or folate)

    Drug and alcohol-related conditions

    • Alcohol withdrawal state
    • Intoxication from drug or alcohol use
    • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (a long-term effect of excessive alcohol consumption or malnutrition)
    • Withdrawal from drugs (especially sedative-hypnotics and corticosteroids)


    • Any sudden onset (acute) or long-term (chronic) infection
    • Blood poisoning (septicemia)
    • Brain infection (encephalitis)
    • Meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
    • Prion infections, such as mad cow disease
    • Late-stage syphilis

    Complications of cancer can also lead to OBS.

    Other conditions that may mimic organic brain syndrome include:

    • Depression
    • Neurosis
    • Psychosis
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms can differ based on the disease. In general, organic brain syndromes cause:

    • Agitation
    • Confusion
    • Long-term loss of brain function (dementia)
    • Severe, short-term loss of brain function (delirium)
  • Exams and Tests

    Tests depend on the disorder, but may include:

    • Blood tests
    • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
    • Head CT scan
    • Head MRILumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • Treatment

    Treatment depends on the disorder. Many of the disorders are treated mainly with rehabilitation and supportive care to assist the person in areas where brain function is lost.

    Medications may be needed to reduce aggressive behaviors that can occur with some of the conditions.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    Some disorders are short-term and treatable, but many are long-term or get worse over time.

  • Possible Complications

    People with OBS often lose the ability to interact with others or function on their own.

  • Call your health care provider if:

    • You have been diagnosed with organic brain syndrome and you are uncertain about the exact disorder.
    • You have symptoms of this condition.
    • You have been diagnosed with OBS and your symptoms become worse.

Related Information

  ConfusionCreutzfeldt-Jakob ...Huntington disease...Multiple sclerosis...Normal pressure hy...Pick diseaseAlzheimer disease...ArrhythmiasEndocarditisMyocarditis     Multiple sclerosis...Alzheimer disease...Stroke


Apostolova LG, DeKosky ST, Cummings JL. Dementias. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 66.

Knopman DS. Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 409.


Review Date: 2/24/2014  

Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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