Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic brain disorder that affects how an individual feels, acts and interprets reality. Schizophrenia can develop suddenly and quickly in some individuals and can be slower in others, but once active, it usually results in some combination of delusions, hallucinations, lack of motivation and trouble concentrating. However, when treated, most people with schizophrenia will improve significantly overtime.
Despite common misconceptions, schizophrenia is not multiple or split personalities and a patient will usually never present a violent threat or pose a danger to themselves or others. The symptoms are usually quite different from individual to individual and it is not caused by childhood experiences or poor parenting. There were previously different subtypes of schizophrenia such as paranoid schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, however these are not used anymore.
Schizophrenia affects approximately 1 percent of population worldwide and while it affects both genders equally, it may have an earlier onset in males and there are no significant deviations in ethnicity. A lot of experts in the field believe that schizophrenia is a group of diseases acting as one.
There is currently no cure for schizophrenia but increased research is resulting in safer treatments and also more insight into the causes of the disease. More effective treatments and therapies are also being developed through the studying of genes, behavioral research and studying advanced image scans of the brain. In addition, early treatment may help get the condition under control and provide a more positive outlook.
Risk Factors For Schizophrenia
Similar to a lot of mental disorders the exact cause(s) of schizophrenia is unknown, however these factors may increase the risk of developing and triggering schizophrenia:
- Heredity (genetics) – You have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia if there is prevalent history of the disease in your family. It may also appear if the body undergoes significant hormonal and physical changes.
- Chemistry and structure of the brain – Experts believe that patients with the disease suffer from an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as dopamine or serotonin. In addition, issues with the development of pathways in the brain before birth may also increase the risk.
- Viral Infections and autoimmune diseases – increased immune system activation is linked to an increased risk in developing schizophrenia later in life.
- Taking psychoactive or psychotropic drugs during teen or young adult years.
The Signs and symptoms of Schizophrenia
As with a lot of diseases the severity, duration and frequency of the symptoms may vary from individual to individual, and even more so with schizophrenia. However, patients usually have episodes where they have difficulty differentiating between what is real or not. Due to the sheer number, the symptoms of schizophrenia are usually categorized into the following groups:
- Positive symptoms – Also known as psychotic symptoms, these include:
- Thought disorders
- Movement disorders (agitated movement)
- Negative symptoms – These usually refer to the elements that are taken away from the patient such as a lack of emotion or motivation and include:
- Reduced feeling of pleasure in everyday life
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of facial expressions or emotion
- Cognitive symptoms – These are subtler in some people than others but they usually include:
- Trouble focusing or paying attention
- Problems understanding and using information.
- Problems retaining information.
How Schizophrenia is Diagnosed
Since the exact cause is unknown, diagnosing schizophrenia almost always relies on eliminating any other possible mental disorder as well ensuring that the symptoms are not due to substance abuse, a medical condition or a side effect to certain medications. The doctor may perform:
- Physical exam
- Psychiatric evaluation
- Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia – a doctor may use the criteria in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.
- Tests and screenings
The Treatment of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a lifelong disease and as such requires lifelong treatment. This is often guided by an individual who is experienced with treating such diseases. However, because the causes are also unknown, treatment focuses on eliminating the symptoms and may include:
- Antipsychotics– These help reduce the biochemical imbalances in the brain and hence reduce the likelihood of another episode. Even though newer generation antipsychotics usually have less severe side effects, these should only be taken under supervision of a mental health professional. Some examples of these drugs are Risperidone, olanzapine and quetiapine.
- Recover and rehabilitation – Rehab can help an individual recover the confidence and necessary skills to live a productive life as a member of the community and may include services such as self help groups, house and employment programs, drop in centers, and psychosocial rehabilitation programs.