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General overview

Racing thoughts are rapid thought patterns which can occur in manic, hypomanic or mixed episodes and can take over a person's consciousness.

Voices, thoughts and even music can enter one's mind and they seem to jump from one aspect to the next without any uniform pattern. This can become very irritating and may end up negatively affecting a person's quality of life.

These thoughts are described as experiencing an episode where the mind uncontrollably brings up random memories and ideas, and then alternating between them rapidly. These thoughts may be related to each other or be totally random. There seems to be no control over these thoughts and it can cause the individual to not focus properly and to struggle with sleep.

Associated conditions

Racing thoughts are often associated with anxiety disorders, but there other other conditions in which this issue can also occur. The most common conditions will be discussed.

Anxiety disorders

Racing thoughts can occur in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a result of stressors or triggers. These thoughts then become the obsession, whereby the patient seeks a compulsion to try and bring the thoughts under control.

Panic disorder can result in panic attacks, which is a response that is out of proportion to the experienced thoughts. These thoughts can seem catastrophic but they are symptoms of the panic attack.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worrying about irrational issues. Racing thoughts are one of the main symptoms of this condition.

Bipolar mood disorder

Racing thoughts, which are disjointed and constantly changing, tend to occur during the manic phase of bipolar disorder. These racing thoughts are usually accompanied with other symptoms associated with this condition.

Amphetamine use

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs which are used to trigger the central nervous system. These drugs can result in an effect which mimics the manic phase of bipolar mood disorder. Therefore, it can also produce racing thoughts.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Racing thoughts occur in adults with ADHD. Here, patients tend to be bored which then makes racing thoughts easier to occur and this can result in the patient struggling with sleep.

These thoughts tend to be unstable, rapid and show no pattern in them. Medications such as methylphenidate are used to treat patients with ADHD and this seems to help control these thoughts.

Lack of sleep

Issues such as obstructive sleep apnoea and suffering from prolonged disturbed sleeping patters tend to result in racing thoughts.

Treating sleep apnoea and obstructive airway disorders will allow for better perfusion of the lungs and oxygen exchange to the tissues and organs. This then improves the function of the brain as well as REM sleep which in turn decreases the incidence of racing thoughts.

Hyperthyroidism

This condition occurs when the thyroid is producing too much thyroxin. The result is that the affected individual's metabolic rate increases which may result in, amongst other issues, racing thoughts due to an increase in anxiety and an inability to focus properly.

Management

The management of racing thoughts will depend on what the cause of the symptom is. It is therefore suggested that a doctor is consulted so that the above issues can be excluded and appropriately treated.

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