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Pyromania, An Impulse To Set Fires: What Are Its Causes, Symptoms And Treatments?

Pyromania is an impulse-control disorder in which a person has an unhealthy obsession to set fires. The setting of fire by pyromaniacs may occur on more than one occasion due to their instinctive impulse independent of will.

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Experts say that fire-setting is often considered a common behaviour in individuals, which may or may not be related to a mental health condition. However, when this behaviour becomes a fascination and a person continues doing it repeatedly due to loss of control, it can be called a psychiatric condition and needs medical attention.

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People with pyromania are, therefore, considered to be having a strong urge to involve in behaviours that provide them intense 'rush', knowing that these behaviours are harmful. Some pyromaniacs also engage in fire-setting behaviours to relieve their tension or anxiety.

In this article, we will discuss pyromania in detail. Take a look.

Causes Of Pyromania

Studies say that there is no one cause for pyromania as several factors together are responsible for causing the condition. Some of these factors may include:

  • Neuropsychological problems such as impairments in visual or verbal memory, attention and executive functioning. [1]
  • Neurobiological conditions such as deficit in a left inferior frontal perfusion. [2]
  • History of alcohol abuse. [3]
  • Other underlying psychiatric conditions such as low mood linked to anhedonia or inability or feel pleasure, along with reduced motivation and depressive symptoms. [4]
  • History of childhood abuse or neglect.
  • Dysfunction in the regulation of happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin.
  • Family history of pyromania or other impulse control disorders.
  • Other behaviour-related disorders such as conduct disorder or ADHD.
  • Mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.
  • Childhood bed-wetting habits, especially in boys [7]
  • Other causes include feelings of rejection or the wish to return of an absent father.

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Symptoms Of Pyromania

Some of the symptoms noticed in pyromania are:

  • Uncontrollable urge to set fire.
  • Setting fire on purpose on more than one occasion.
  • Intense obsession with fire or feeling of pleasure on seeing or playing with it.
  • Setting fire mainly due to an irresistible urge and not due to any gain of money, to intentionally perform a criminal act, to express anger or any ideological reasons.
  • Getting a feeling of 'rush' or 'relief' on setting the fire.
  • Feeling excitement around the fire.
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations.
  • Difficulties in remembering small details like name, directions, phone numbers or recent events.
  • Curiosity to set false fire alarms or feeling please by seeing fire equipment or institutions.
  • Sometimes even becoming a firefighter to engage in daily fire activities, witnessing it or participating in the same. [5]
  • In rare instances, setting fire for sexual arousal. [6]

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Risk Factors Of Pyromania

Some of the risk factors for pyromania may include:

  • Male gender
  • Children with mental health disorders like bipolar disorder, conduct disorder and impulse control disorders.
  • Children with a family history of pyromania.

Complications Of Pyromania

Pyromania symptoms often start showing during childhood. If not treated at an early stage, it may lead to complications such as:

  • Isolation from society.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Risk of physical burns.

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Diagnosis Of Pyromania

As pyromania is considered a psychiatric disorder, the symptoms are mainly evaluated based on criteria on the scale of DSM-IV. This is because setting fire at one or two instances does not make a child pyromaniac as it could be out of curiosity or a sign of normal development. Therefore, they have to pass many criteria for proper diagnosis.

To diagnose pyromania, the overall physical and mental health history of the patient is evaluated by performing neuroimaging and other assessments. [7]

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Treatments Of Pyromania

Some of the treatment methods for pyromania may include:

  • Medications: Such as topiramate, sertraline, lithium, escitalopram or a combination of sodium valproate and olanzapine. [8]
  • Cognitive behavioural therapies: It includes imaginal exposure to fire along with teaching how to prevent response to it. The therapy also includes teaching ways how to control urges for fire-setting. [9]
  • Other biological treatments: It includes the use of other drugs such as anti-depressants and anti-anxiety, along with anti-androgens to balance hormones.

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To Conclude

Pyromania is largely a neglected and unrecognised disorder that may affect the day-to-day life of a person. Also, diagnosis of the condition is difficult as only fewer people prefer to report their own condition and seek medical help while others prefer living with the condition denying medical help.

Consult a medical expert if you suspect you may have pyromania or know someone with the symptoms for early diagnosis and treatment. Remember, remission of the condition is possible.