Rage Attacks

Rage attacks are sudden, out-of-control bursts of anger. These explosive outbursts can start without warning. They may also seem to be out of proportion to what triggered the episode.

Rage attacks are different than tantrums. Tantrums are goal-oriented with the intent of getting an observer to do what the person wants. Rage attacks are more about the release of pent up tension than about achieving a specific goal.

In the past, rage attacks were thought to be related to epilepsy or Tourette syndrome. This is now understood to be false.

Symptoms

Rage attacks may seem to begin without warning. However, little signs may be seen, including:

  • Increased stressed
  • Increased agitation
  • Anxiety

When a rage attack happens, symptoms may include:

  • Yelling or shouting
  • Intense anger
  • Physical aggression


Causes and Risk Factors

Rage attacks are sometimes incorrectly linked with epilepsy or Tourette syndrome. In very rare cases, limbic seizures can be linked to out-of-control behavior. However, this is uncommon.

The cause of rage attacks is unknown.

Some children or teenagers may have rage attacks only at home and not at school. Others may have the attacks at school.

Rage attacks can be triggered by stressors such as:

  • Social pressure
  • School work

Diagnosis

If the patient has symptoms similar to a seizure, the doctor will often test the patient for epilepsy. The most useful test in confirming epilepsy is an electroencephalogram (EEG). This test records electrical activity in the brain. It can show abnormal spikes or waves in electrical activity patterns. Different types of epilepsy can be identified with these patterns.

A patient with rage attacks that are unrelated to epilepsy will not show unusual electrical activity in the brain on the EEG.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may be used to look for epilepsy as well. However, these tests are not very helpful for rage attacks.

If the doctor suspects rage attacks, the patient will be referred to a psychologist for further diagnosis and treatment.

Treatments

Psychotherapy is the most common treatment for rage attacks. This may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT examines thoughts and their links to feelings and behaviors. CBT and other psychotherapies take several months to work. It is important that the patient continue their treatment plan during this time.

Rage attacks do not respond to anti-seizure medications. However, medications for depression or anxiety may be used as part of the treatment plan.