What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People who have schizophrenia may lose touch with reality and see or hear things that aren't there or believe things that aren't true.
What Are Symptoms of Schizophrenia?
Symptoms of schizophrenia include:
- Abnormal experiences or behaviors that occur because of schizophrenia which are psychotic manifestations called “positive symptoms”
- Hallucinations: hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, or tasting things that aren't there
- Believing things that are not true
- Irrational fears
- Disorganized thinking or speech
- Normal behaviors that stop because of schizophrenia, called “negative symptoms”
- Not displaying emotion or showing facial expressions (“flat affect”)
- Not moving or speaking much
- Not taking showers or practicing basic hygiene
- Not having interest in spending time with others or doing things that used to be pleasurable
- Reduced motivation and difficulty planning, starting, and sustaining activities
- Cognitive symptoms affecting thinking and memory causing difficulty:
- Learning and remembering
- Understanding speech or other types of communication
- Making sense of new information
- Solving problems
- Focusing or paying attention
- Making decisions
- Emotional symptoms
What Causes Schizophrenia?
The cause of schizophrenia is not entirely understood but it is believed to be due to a combination of factors:
- Schizophrenia can run in families
- Environment, combined with genetic predisposition
- Living in poverty
- Stressful surroundings
- Exposure to viruses or nutritional problems prenatally
- Brain structure and function
- Differences in brain structure, function, and interactions among neurotransmitters in the brain may contribute to the development of schizophrenia
Certain triggers may cause schizophrenia to develop in people who are at risk, such as:
- Stressful life events
- Loss of a loved one
- Loss of a job or home
- Relationship breakup
- Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
- Drug abuse
- Drug misuse doesn’t cause schizophrenia, but it increases the risk of developing the disease
- Cannabis, cocaine, LSD, and amphetamines in particular may trigger symptoms in susceptible individuals
- Amphetamine or cocaine use can lead to psychosis and relapses
- Teenagers and young adults who use cannabis regularly are more likely to develop schizophrenia later in adulthood
How Is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?
There is no specific test for schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed with an assessment by a mental health professional.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia may be made when a person has two or more of the following symptoms occurring persistently in the context of reduced functioning:
- Disorganized speech
- Disorganized or catatonic behavior
- Negative symptoms
Tests may be performed in some cases to rule out other causes for the symptoms, such as brain tumors, other medical conditions, and other psychiatric diagnoses such as bipolar disorder.
What Is the Treatment for Schizophrenia?
Treatment for schizophrenia includes medications along with counseling and support.
Medications used to treat schizophrenia are called antipsychotics, which patients usually have to take for the rest of their lives. These medicines can often cause uncomfortable side effects which may cause patients to stop taking them. Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to change the dose or switch medications to find one that works best for you while also minimizing side effects. It may take a number of tries with different medications to find the right one for you.
Counseling and other support for schizophrenia includes:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Behavioral skills training
- Supported employment
- Cognitive remediation interventions to help address the negative and cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia
- Family education and support programs
- Coordinated specialty care (CSC), which is recovery-oriented treatment programs for people with first episode psychosis, an early stage of schizophrenia
- Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) for individuals with schizophrenia who are at risk for repeated hospitalizations or homelessness
What Are Complications of Schizophrenia?
Complications of untreated schizophrenia may include: