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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. Only setting fires
gives relief or satisfaction.
How does it occur?
The exact cause of this disorder is not known. Experts think it may be caused by differences in the brain or
nervous system. It might also be related to things such as child abuse or a family history of mental illness.
Most pyromaniacs are male. Many people with this disorder also have a learning disorder.
Most children go through a stage where they like to set fires. This is normal. Most children outgrow playing
with fire by adolescence or adulthood.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of pyromania are:
• 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.
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 true pyromaniac just likes fire.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider or a mental health will ask about your symptoms and any drug or alcohol use.
You may have lab tests to rule out medical problems such as chemical imbalances.
How is it treated?
Both therapy and medicines may be used to treat this disorder.
In covert sensitization, you first relax and picture scenes that excite you. Then you imagine something
negative, such as getting your penis stuck in the zipper of your pants.
With assisted aversive conditioning, the negative event is real rather than imagined. For example, your
therapist sprays a bad smell such as ammonia in the air. The goal is for you to link your actions with
something negative and avoid both.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change thoughts you have that are
not realistic. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new
thought and behavior patterns.
Medicines such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and other kinds of medicines may also help.
When should I seek help?
Pyromania is very dangerous to the person with the disorder as well as to others. If you suspect that
someone you care about may have pyromania, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a mental
health professional as soon as possible.
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