Schizophrenia is a serious, long-term mental illness that affects a person’s ability to think, interact with others, and manage emotions. It is often characterized by hallucinations and delusional thinking.
It is estimated that between 0.25% to 0.64% of adults in the United States are diagnosed with schizophrenia. Though schizophrenia can be diagnosed at any age, the typical onset of symptoms occurs from teens to early 20s in men and late 20s to early 30s in women.
Treatments and medications are available, with early intervention leading to the best outcomes.
Symptoms of schizophrenia can vary between people but are generally categorized into three groups: psychotic, negative, and cognitive.
Psychotic symptoms alter the way a person thinks and perceives the world around them. These symptoms can be constant or can come and go over time. A person with schizophrenia may have some or all of these symptoms with varying degrees of severity.
Some psychotic symptoms include:
- Hallucinations: Seeing, hearing, smelling, or tasting things that are not present. Hearing voices is a common hallucination.
- Delusions: Having strong beliefs in something that is not true, such as being followed or watched by someone. They may believe they are in danger when they are not.
- Thought disorder: This is characterized by difficulty thinking and organizing thoughts. This may be exhibited by not being able to articulate thoughts or making up nonsense words.
- Movement disorder: Repeating certain irregular motions or abnormal movements.
Negative symptoms include symptoms that interfere with one’s ability to complete daily tasks and responsibilities. They may withdraw from activities they once enjoyed or have trouble completing daily chores.
Sometimes these symptoms can be mistaken for depression.
Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia interfere with a person’s memory and concentration. They may have trouble paying attention during a conversation or remembering to keep appointments.
They may also have trouble learning and remembering new information.
Causes and Risk Factors
Though the exact cause of schizophrenia is not known, certain risk factors make a person more likely to develop the disease.
Scientists believe that a combination of factors contributes to the illness.
Research has shown there is a genetic component to schizophrenia, as the disease tends to run in families.
Scientists have not been able to identify a single responsible gene, but studies on twins have confirmed that genetics play a large role.
People with schizophrenia have physical and chemical changes in the brain. Certain neurotransmitters, chemical messengers in the brain, may be out of balance in the brain.
Specifically, dopamine and glutamate may play a role in schizophrenia.
Complications before and during pregnancy are risk factors for schizophrenia. These include:
- Low birth weight
- Developing an infection during pregnancy
- Premature birth
- Maternal obesity during pregnancy
People who experienced some sort of trauma during childhood are more likely to develop schizophrenia. They may develop hallucinations related to abuse or neglect they experienced.
A child who experiences a loss of a parent or close family member is also at higher risk.
Though drug usage does not directly cause schizophrenia, research has shown that people with schizophrenia commonly abuse cannabis, alcohol, nicotine, and other substances.
This drug usage can worsen the symptoms of the condition.
Treatments and Medications
Schizophrenia is usually treated with a combination of therapy and medication. Psychotherapy focuses on helping the patient develop strategies to cope with their symptoms and improve social functioning. A combination of family, individual, and group therapy is often used.
Being engaged in a program of psychotherapy also helps a patient stay consistent in taking medications.
Antipsychotic medications are vital in treating schizophrenia, with earlier intervention resulting in better outcomes. Sometimes a combination of antipsychotics and mood stabilizers may be used to allow the patient to sleep, eat, and function normally.
These medications must be carefully monitored for adverse effects, as sometimes they can be serious.
Some of the most popular medications include:
While there is currently no cure for schizophrenia, people with schizophrenia can lead normal lives with early intervention and treatment.