Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that can make it difficult for person to function in a normal social setting. People with this disorder may hear voices or they may have paranoid or delusional thoughts, such as believing that their minds are being read or their thoughts controlled. Experiences like these are terrifying and can cause feelings of withdrawal, fearfulness or agitation on an extreme level. People who are suffering from schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk, may sit for hours without talking or moving or they may seem completely fine until they talk about what they are thinking.
The term, “schizophrenia,” is actually used to classify a group of severe brain disorders that affect the way a person interprets reality. Schizophrenia can make it difficult for a person to:
- Discern the difference between fantasy and reality.
- Think in a normal, logical way.
- Have regular emotional responses.
- Behave like an average person in various social situations and settings.
Overtime, the schizophrenia can become progressively worse, inhibiting a person from properly caring for him- or herself without some form of aid or guidance. This disorder is a chronic condition, meaning it requires a lifetime of observation and treatment.
There are three primary sets of symptoms associated with schizophrenia:
- Positive Symptoms: Positive symptoms involve unusual perceptions or thoughts like delusions, thought disorders, mirages, disorganized behavior and movement disorders. These symptoms can be described as a distortion of normal, everyday functions.
- Negative Symptoms: Negative symptoms represent a loss or a decrease in the ability to speak, express emotion, initiate plans or find pleasure in everyday life. These symptoms may appear months or even years before positive symptoms of schizophrenia.
- Cognitive Symptoms: Cognitive symptoms, or cognitive deficits, on the other hand are issues relating to attention, memory and executive functions allowing people to organize and plan. These are much harder symptoms to recognize and can often be mistaken for depression or laziness. They can also be difficult to recognize as part of the disorder, but can be some of the most disabling. These symptoms include problems with comprehending information, difficulty focusing or paying attention and memory issues.
Causes and Risk Factors
Like many other similar illnesses, it has yet to be determined what the exact cause of schizophrenia is. It is believed that schizophrenia is the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Schizophrenia has been known to run in families, but this is not the only cause for the disorder. Other studies suggest that this mental disorder may be the result of problems that occur in the brain’s chemicals, which include the neurotransmitters, dopamine and glutamate.
Schizophrenia may be experienced during childhood or adulthood, and affects men and women equally. While childhood-onset schizophrenia can start as early as after a child turns 5 years of age, it is quite rare. Symptoms shared with autism and other childhood developmental disorders make childhood-onset schizophrenia difficult to diagnose.
Tests and Diagnosis
There are no specific, medical tests used to diagnose schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is diagnosed through psychiatric evaluation and is based on the symptom profiles listed above. A psychiatrist will examine the patient and discuss signs or abnormalities that may have been noted by family members. If schizophrenia runs in the family, then the likelihood that a person will suffer from the disorder when exhibiting similar situations is much higher than if schizophrenia does not run in a person’s family.
Although there are no medical tests to diagnose schizophrenia, a brain scan and blood tests may be used to determine if any signs or symptoms are being confused with another type of disorder or medical condition.
The current treatments focus on eliminating the symptoms of the disease rather than preventing the disorder or eliminating the disorder completely because the causes are not largely known. In other words, managing the symptoms of the disorder is the primary focus for treating schizophrenia rather than treating the underlying disorder. Some potential treatments for the symptoms include antipsychotic medications, psychosocial treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-help groups and family counseling. Typically a combination between behavioral therapy, counseling and medication is ideal for treating all of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia.
Possible side effects of prescribed medication for schizophrenia include:
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of diabetes and/or high cholesterol
- Body tremors
- Sluggish mobility
- Feeling restless
If not diagnosed and properly treated, schizophrenia can lead to numerous complications, including:
- Substance abuse: Someone suffering from schizophrenia that is not properly managed may turn to substance abuse to alleviate symptoms or to help cope with life’s difficulties caused by the disorder. However, substance abuse is known to only exacerbate symptoms of schizophrenia.
- Physical illness: Refusal for proper treatment and care for schizophrenia may cause someone who is suffering from the disorder to refuse medical care for any type of disease, ailment or medical condition. This can lead to potential health problems and physical illness.
- Suicide: If not diagnosed and treated, schizophrenia can possibly lead to suicide. Substance abuse can also be a contributing factor to suicide.