What is pyromania?

Pyromania is an impulse disorder. People who have this disorder cannot resist an impulse to set fires, even though they know it is harmful. The urge makes them anxious, tense, or aroused. People with this disorder do not set fires for money, to express political beliefs, to hide signs of a crime, or to show anger. A person with pyromania feels a sense of relief or satisfaction when they set fires.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. The cause may be due to one or more of the following:

  • The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Without the right balance of these chemicals, there may be problems with the way you think, feel, or act. People with this disorder may have too little or too much of some of these chemicals.
  • A trigger, which can be a drug or a thought, may cause changes in the brain chemicals. Those chemical changes lead to urges to do something. There is usually a link between doing something and getting a good feeling. In pyromania, the urge is to set fires, even if it is harmful. The thoughts that link fire to good feelings may be learned from things that happened when you were young or from recent experiences. Wanting the good feelings can trigger the same behavior in the future.
  • Pyromania may be related to other mental disorders, such as addiction, anxiety, or depression. Substance abuse and learning disorders are also common in people with pyromania.
  • It may be a problem with genes that are passed from parents to children. Most children go through a stage where they like to set fires. Most children outgrow playing with fire by adolescence or adulthood. Most pyromaniacs are male.
  • Stressors such as major losses may also lead to pyromania. It might also be related to things such as child abuse or a family history of mental illness.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Setting fires on purpose more than once
  • Being very tense or very excited before setting the fire
  • Being attracted by fire and objects, people, or situations related to fire
  • Feeling pleasure or relief when setting or watching fires
  • Not caring about the loss of property, the injuries, or even the deaths that result from fires

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines you are taking. He will make sure you do not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms. You may have tests to help make a diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Many kinds of therapy have been used to treat this disorder, but it is not clear which one is best.

Several types of medicines can help treat pyromania. Your healthcare provider will work with you to select the best medicine. You may need to take more than one type of medicine.

Treatment may involve conditioning techniques. The goal of conditioning is for you to learn to link your behavior with something unpleasant (like a bad smell) and avoid both.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new ways to think and act.

Pyromania is very dangerous to the person with the disorder as well as to others. If you think that you or someone you care about may have pyromania, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a mental health professional.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all of the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take. Take all medicines as directed by your provider or therapist. It is very important to take your medicine even when you are feeling and thinking well. Without the medicine, your symptoms may not improve or may get worse. Talk to your provider if you have problems taking your medicine or if the medicines don’t seem to be working.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or self-harm, violence, or harming others.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-06-07
Last reviewed: 2013-04-26
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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