Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder. People with BPD may often have dramatic, emotional, erratic, and attention-seeking moods. This behavior disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self.
The causes of BPD are not fully understood. It is thought to be a combination of brain chemistry, genetics, and environmental factors. People who develop BPD are probably born vulnerable to the illness. Certain experiences and types of stress may then further increase their chance of developing BPD. Many BPD sufferers are often found to have experienced childhood abuse, neglect, separation, sexual abuse, violence, or brain injury.
Central Nervous System - Brain
BPD is thought to develop from a combination of chemical imbalances in the brain and traumatic life experiences.
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BPD is more common in females. The following factors increase your chances of developing BPD: A history of abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a childA history of sexual abuse or violenceInborn sensitivity to stressImmediate family members with BPD
The symptoms of BPD vary. People with BPD tend to be extremely sensitive to rejection. They may react with anger and be upset at even mild separation from friends or family. Symptoms often become more acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lonely or during times of particular stress.
Traits that are common to people with BPD include: Fears of being left alone—resulting in frantic behaviors to avoid being left aloneExtreme and unpredictable mood swings and difficulty managing emotions or regulating moodsDifficulty in relationships—characterized by dramatic swings, or viewing people as all good or all badUnstable self-image
Excessive spendingPromiscuity, risky sexual behaviorGamblingDrug and alcohol abuseBinge eatingRepetitively injuring themselves through cutting, scratching, or burningFeeling misunderstood, bored, and emptyHaving deep-seated feelings of being flawed or bad in some wayUsing defense mechanisms to avoid taking responsibility for behavior, or to blame othersProblems with anger management, manifested as periods of intense, uncontrollable and often unreasonable angerEpisodes of intense paranoia, dissociation, or thought patterns bordering on psychosis—often provoked by stress
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This is to rule out other possible causes for mood and behavior problems. If BPD is suspected, you may be referred to a psychiatrist who specializes in personality disorders.
BPD can affect anyone. It is usually diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. A diagnosis of BPD may be made if a person has a history of the symptoms listed above. In addition, BPD patients almost always have other mental health problems such as: DepressionAlcohol or drug abuseEating disordersAnxiety disordersBipolar disorderCompulsive spending, gambling, or risky sexual behavior
Treatment options have improved as BPD is better understood. Many BPD sufferers are helped by psychotherapy and medications.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Individual, group, and family therapy form the basis of BPD treatment. Individual psychotherapy usually consists of 2-3 sessions a week for a period of years. Group therapy may focus on the same goals but take place in a group of fellow participants. The goal of therapy is to help the person with BPD: Understand their behavior
Improve their ability to tolerate frustration,
, loneliness, and anger
Control impulsive behaviorImprove social skills
Family therapy may help family members deal with the effects of BPD. It can also provide additional support for the person with BPD.
Cognitive therapy helps you to change patterns of thinking that are unproductive and harmful. For example, some people have unrealistic worries that they’re going crazy or might have a heart attack. Cognitive therapy also helps you identify possible triggers for panic attacks, such as a thought, a situation, or even something that could cause an increase in your heart rate. When you understand the difference between an actual panic attack and a trigger, you have more control over the trigger.
Medication may be prescribed and adjusted based on your symptoms. Medication options may include: Antidepressant drugsMood stabilizersAntipsychotic drugs—may be used in low doses to control distorted thinking or anxiety
There are no current guidelines for preventing BPD.
Borderline personality disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 23, 2013. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Borderline personality disorder: fact sheet. National Mental Health Association website.
http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/borderline.cfm. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Borderline personality disorder: raising questions, finding answers. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/topics/topic-page-borderline-personality-disorder.shtml. Accessed August 8, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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