Health Information

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder


Personality disorder - borderline

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental condition in which a person has long-term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions. These inner experiences often result in impulsive actions and chaotic relationships with other people.

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    Cause of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is unknown. Genetic, family, and social factors are thought to play roles.

    Risk factors for BPD include:

    • Abandonment in childhood or adolescence
    • Disrupted family life
    • Poor communication in the family
    • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

    BPD tends to occur more often in women and among hospitalized psychiatric people.

  • Symptoms

    People with BPD are often uncertain about who they are. As a result, their interests and values can change rapidly. They also tend to view things in terms of extremes, such as either all good or all bad. Their views of other people can change quickly. A person who is looked up to one day may be looked down on the next day. These suddenly shifting feelings often lead to intense and unstable relationships.

    Other symptoms of BPD include:

    • Intense fear of being abandoned
    • Cannot tolerate being alone
    • Frequent feelings of emptiness and boredom
    • Frequent displays of inappropriate anger
    • Impulsiveness, such as with substance abuse or sexual relationships
    • Repeated crises and acts of self-injury, such as wrist cutting or overdosing
  • Exams and Tests

    BPD is diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation. The health care provider will consider how long and how severe the person's symptoms are.

  • Treatment

    Individual talk therapy may successfully treat BPD. In addition, group therapy can sometimes be helpful.

    Medicines have less of a role in the treatment of BPD. In some cases, they can improve mood swings and treat depression or other disorders that may occur with BPD.

  • Outlook (Prognosis)

    Outlook of treatment depends on how severe the condition is and whether the person is willing to accept help. With long-term talk therapy, the person often gradually improves.

  • Possible Complications

    Complications may include:

    • Depression
    • Drug abuse
    • Problems with work, family, and social relationships
    • Suicide attempts and actual suicide
  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    See your health care provider if you or someone you know has symptoms of borderline personality disorder. It is especially important to seek help right away if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide.

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American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 39.

Leichsenring F, Leibing E, Kruse J, New AS, Leweke F. Borderline personality disorder. Lancet. 2011;377(9759):74-84. PMID 21195251. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21195251


Review Date: 10/31/2014  

Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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