Schizophrenia: Defined

OVERVIEW

Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic disorder of the brain. Often confused for multiple personality disorder, schizophrenia is marked by a different interpretation of reality. People with the disorder may hear voices, hallucinate and become delusional.

3D rendering of DNA and the human brain inside a head with a magnifying glassThe symptoms of schizophrenia can overwhelm the patient, causing him or her to react with anger, fear or a related emotion.

According to the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, about 1.1 percent of people worldwide and 3.5 million in the US have schizophrenia.

SYMPTOMS

Many symptoms have been observed in schizophrenia, and most of them involve losing touch with reality, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The most apparent symptoms of the disorder include behaviors like disorganized speaking patterns and abrupt, strange physical movements.

Other schizophrenia symptoms are turned inward and may not manifest in a way that is noticeable to others for years. These symptoms can include the following: delusional beliefs, hearing voices that aren’t real, smelling odors that others don’t smell, paranoia, speaking in a monotone voice and constantly losing thoughts midsentence.

DIAGNOSIS

Many of the symptoms of schizophrenia also may indicate other mental conditions or problems like depression, extreme anxiety or drug abuse. This can make the immediate diagnosis of schizophrenia difficult, so to be diagnosed with the disorder, a patient has to have had symptoms for at least six months.

schizophrenia networks in prefrontal cortex; 3d renderingBecause no physical test can confirm the presence of schizophrenia, the only lab tests a doctor will perform when testing for the disorder will be to rule out other conditions.

After the doctor has ruled out other possible conditions, he or she will interview the patient. Questions might cover internal thoughts, delusions and violent inclinations. During the interviews, the doctor will observe the patient’s behavior, too.

TREATMENTS

Although doctors often recommend therapy for schizophrenia, they normally only do so in conjuction with medication. This is because, if left untreated, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be severe and dangerous to the patient and others.

The most common medications used to treat schizophrenia symptoms are called antipsychotics. These medications — such as aripiprazole (brand name Abilify) and haloperidol (brand name Haldol) — work by regulating powerful chemicals in the brain called dopamine and serotonin.

Sometimes, patients with schizophrenia are reluctant to take their medication because the risk of side effects is high. One of the most severe potential side effects is tardive dyskinesia, a disorder that affects movement and motor skills.

CAUSES

The exact cause of schizophrenia isn’t known, but research suggests it is at least partly genetic. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 10 percent of people who have a close relative with schizophrenia also have the disorder. By comparison, the condition affects roughly 1 percent of the general population.

Environment also might play a part in the development of schizophrenia. Research has connected childhood trauma, substance abuse and malnutrition before birth to the disorder.

GETTING HELP

People with schizophrenia face a dramatically raised risk of suicide, drug abuse and homelessness. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of the disorder, seek medical care immediately.

schizophrenia blurred imageDoctors can provide care to patients and refer them to the necessary specialists and treatment outlets.

RELATED INFORMATION

With the permission of a doctor, schizophrenia patients may seek out other therapies to use in conjunction with their medicine. Many patients find that learning about their condition helps them understand and better handle symptoms. Others join community support groups to help them stay focused on their treatment goals.

LIVING WITH

Currently, schizophrenia has no cure. However, the symptoms of the disorder resolve completely in roughly a quarter of all patients, according to the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America. Also, about half of all schizophrenia patients see significant improvement within 10 years. Unfortunately, roughly a quarter do not improve.

Medications to treat schizophrenia symptoms continue to improve. Many people live relatively normal lives with the help of daily medication and ongoing therapy.