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What are the Common Causes of Chemical Imbalances in the Brain?

Laura M. Sands
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Chemical imbalances in the brain may stem from a variety of causes including a brain tumor, the death of important brain cells, an anxiety disorder, medication or drug abuse, or it may even be congenital. A chemical imbalance may cause minor or major personality and mood changes, as well as mental illness. When brain chemistry is altered, a person experiences a wide range of distressing symptoms. In some cases, medication can help reverse or control chemical changes and return a person to normal or near normal functioning, but some imbalances have a permanent adverse impact on a person’s life.

When brain cells die, a person develops symptoms indicative of illnesses like Parkinson’s and other degenerative diseases. This is because cell death initiates chemical imbalances in the brain, which commonly lead to a further decline in cognition, motor skills and reflexes. For instance, in Parkinson’s disease, the death of brain cells decreases the production of the brain chemical dopamine, which interrupts neurotransmitter communication and creates symptoms such as body tremors and declining control over body movements.

Brain tumors may also cause imbalances in the brain. Tumors may be cancerous or benign, but their mere presence in the brain can interrupt chemical production and trigger unique symptoms. These symptoms often include changes in mood and personality, and may even include hallucinations, disorientation and delusions. With proper treatment, chemistry changes initiated by a brain tumor can often be restored.

Anxiety disorders are frequently caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. This imbalance may develop as the result of stress, trauma, abuse or a brain tumor. Each of these is capable of altering brain chemistry and triggering symptoms which may include panic attacks, excessive sweating and social withdrawal. Changes leading to mental illness can affect men and women at any age. Anxiety disorders are frequently treated with therapeutic intervention and medications created to help restore the chemical balance in the brain.

Chemical imbalances may also be present at birth. The symptoms of such an imbalance may or may not be apparent in young children. Often, imbalances are not diagnosed until they begin to affect a person’s life via mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Researchers studying the effects of chemicals in the brain have discovered that individuals suffering from mental illness usually have one or more family members suffering from the same or a closely related mental illness.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Laura M. Sands
By Laura M. Sands , Former Writer
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing to her work. With a background in social sciences and extensive online work experience, she crafts compelling copy and content across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a skilled contributor to any content creation team.

Discussion Comments

By anon995660 — On May 17, 2016

Anon... It is not wise to state a theory as false without proper evidence. Especially when there is evidence to prove otherwise. You do make good suggestions when it comes deducing the source of an individual's problems; however, in the medical field it is unwise to blatantly tell the public something is false and to avoid medication. There are men and women who put in years of education and take an oath to do no harm. If a Doctor believes it's in their patients best interest to try a medication it should be respected as sound advice. Especially if the patient has continued to suffer from mental dysfunction even after a healthy lifestyle. I would suggest to those that read this article to understand what a theory is and to research statistics involving its reliability.

By anon926631 — On Jan 20, 2014

All this talk of chemical imbalances and the medical profession has no idea of how to measure chemicals in the brain. Stay away from any medication that says it will alter your brain chemistry. Try natural therapies such exercise, sunlight, good diet and a healthy social and work life. If you need help to achieve this, try a psychoanalyst to help sort out what the problem is.

By anon307592 — On Dec 05, 2012

The chemical imbalance theory is false.

By aviva — On Jun 08, 2011

I am no expert, but I have heard that depression is a chemical imbalance caused from serotonin deficiency. Serotonin is like our happy hormone. It is our natural feel good neurotransmitter that basically controls our happiness.

If you need a serotonin booster, physical exercise is probably the easiest and most beneficial at improving those weak neurotransmitters.

But some other things you can do is to make sure you get enough rest, take your vitamins especially B complex, eat a healthy diet, stay away from drugs and alcohol and get plenty of natural sunlight.

By ladyjane — On Jun 07, 2011

@Markus - No one likes standing in long lines especially when you're short on time, but to answer your question, yes, stress may be what causes a chemical imbalance in the brain that in return causes you to react that way.

There are a number of causes for stress and anxiety disorders. It could be triggered from a traumatic event, low self-esteem, substance abuse, prescription medications or an hereditary disorder from a family member.

Whatever your background is that is causing you this unusual nervous tension, there are several treatment options available to you. Talk to your physician about your panic attacks and ask if he or she thinks it is a symptom of a chemical imbalance in the brain. They will know what to do and how to help you from there.

By Markus — On Jun 05, 2011

Sometimes when I'm standing in a long line and I have to be somewhere else in a certain amount of time, I get really stressed out. It's almost like a panic attack or something.

I usually end up running back to my car and having to take several deep breaths before I can function again. Does stress cause a chemical imbalance in the brain or is this a normal reaction to unbearably long lines?

Laura M. Sands

Laura M. Sands

Former Writer

Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing...
Learn more
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