Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Schizophrenia

Understanding Schizophrenia

Learn more about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a very severe chronic brain disorder that causes those diagnosed with it to interpret reality in an abnormal way. Men and women with this disorder may experience hallucinations such as hearing voices that others can’t hear and seeing things that are not really there. They may also experience delusions, or false beliefs, in which they believe that other individuals are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or are plotting to harm them in some way. Additionally, a schizophrenic has disordered thinking, such as the inability to connect thoughts, and atypical behavior, which is any behavior that deviates from the norms of society.

For an individual with schizophrenia thinking clearly, logically, and rationally can be very difficult. They may not make sense when they talk, or may just sit for hours without talking at all. Individuals suffering with this disorder may not always be able to tell the difference between what is real and what is not real. All of these symptoms can leave an individual afraid, causing them to withdrawal from friends and family.

The friends and family of an individual with schizophrenia are also greatly affected by the disorder. Not only does it hurt them to see their loved one struggle, but many schizophrenics have a difficult time keeping a job or taking care of themselves and so they require help from others, a responsibility that falls to those closest to them. It can be especially stressful for families if their loved one doesn’t believe they are sick and doesn’t stick to their medication schedule, leading to the re-emergence of symptoms.

Since this illness may cause unusual, inappropriate, and often unpredictable behavior, people who are diagnosed with this mental illness are often stigmatized as being dangerous. Schizophrenia is often mischaracterized as an untreatable disease that is associated with violent behavior, which has led to the development of many untrue stereotypes. While most people with schizophrenia will have to cope with symptoms throughout their life, there are treatments that can relieve some of the symptoms. Although schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment, with the appropriate medication and therapeutic interventions an individual can live a meaningful life in their community.

Statistics

Statistics of schizophrenia

In the U.S. it has been estimated that about 1% of the adult population suffers from schizophrenia. While prevalence estimates indicate equal rates in men and women, men tend to show a younger age of onset than women, with women displaying a less severe course. The typical age of onset ranges from 16-30. It is relatively rare for someone to first develop the condition over the age of 45. While it has long been believed the childhood onset schizophrenia is extremely rare, there is growing awareness that children present with different symptom patterns than adults.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizophrenia & co-occurring disorder

There are a number of disorders that have been shown to co-occur with schizophrenia. These include:

  • Substance abuse –Over 50% of those with schizophrenia have tobacco use disorders and smoke cigarettes regularly.
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Panic disorder
  • Schizotypal or paranoid personality disorder
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Depression

Causes

Causes of schizophrenia

Research experts believe that schizophrenia may be caused by several factors though there is no evidence supporting any single factor. Some of the most common potential causes are:

Genetic: It has been known for a while now that schizophrenia runs in families. While the prevalence rate for the condition is 1% in the general population, the rate increases to 10% for individuals with a first-degree relative who has the disorder. Individuals with second-degree relatives with this disease also develop schizophrenia more often than the general population. Researchers believe that since our genes are inherited from our parents, there are several genes associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia and that no gene causes this disorder by itself. Recent research has shown that men and women with this disorder tend to have higher rates of gene mutations and that these genetic differences involve hundreds of genes that disrupt brain development. Other research has shown that schizophrenia may develop when a certain gene that is needed to make important brain chemicals malfunctions. This may cause damage to the area of the brain that is responsible for the development of higher functioning skills.

Brain Chemicals: Imbalances in naturally occurring brain chemicals, such as the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, may also contribute to schizophrenia. These imbalances prevent the brain from communicating effectively.

Brain Structure: Neuroimaging studies have shown small differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of individuals with schizophrenia. Certain ventricles in the center of the brain appear to be larger in those with schizophrenia. Additionally, there tends to be less gray matter in the brain and certain areas of less or more brain activity.

Environmental Factors: Certain environmental factors such as exposure to viruses, toxins, or malnutrition in the womb have been connected to the development of this disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia

The symptoms of schizophrenia generally develop slowly over a period of time. The symptoms of schizophrenia are usually divided into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive. Some symptoms experienced may include:

Positive symptoms: These symptoms reflect a loss of touch with reality. These symptoms can come and go, ranging from severe to hardly noticeable.

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized behavior
  • Trouble organizing thoughts
  • Speaking in a garbled way
  • Making up meaningless words
  • Agitated body movements

Negative symptoms: These symptoms refer to a disturbance of normal behaviors and emotions. They may appear with or without positive symptoms.

  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Loss of motivation
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Flat affect
  • Speaking little
  • Appearing to lack emotion
  • Reduced ability to plan or carry out activities

Cognitive symptoms: These symptoms involve problems within the thought process. These symptoms are usually the most disabling because they can interfere with an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.

  • Problems with making sense of information
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Trouble focusing

Effects

Effects of schizophrenia

Left untreated, schizophrenia can result in severe emotional, behavioral, and health problems. Additionally, it can lead to legal and financial problems that affect every aspect of life. Some effects can include:

  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Family conflict
  • Inability to work or go to school
  • Heart disease
  • Health problems as a result of antipsychotic medications
  • Suicide

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