What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic brain illness that affects people’s perception of the world around them. Many cases of schizophrenia manifest in individuals when they reach their late teens. Men tend to show symptoms of schizophrenia earlier than women. Behavioral issues can vary depending on which type of schizophrenia a person has.
This brain disorder falls under the psychosis classification because it alters the way people think, respond to outside stimuli, and perceive themselves. This makes schizophrenia distinct from mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder because these primarily affect a person’s emotions. It is possible to have a diagnosis of schizophrenia as well as a mood disorder.
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia
Some people start showing signs of schizophrenia immediately, while others begin exhibiting symptoms gradually over time. The severity of these symptoms can differ from person to person, especially if they are dealing with different types of schizophrenia.
The initial signs of schizophrenia can appear mild, with individuals showing behaviors such as:
- Appearing withdrawn
- Being disorganized
- Seeming suspicious of various things
These initial behavioral changes are often a precursor to an episode of psychosis, where a person might show the first symptoms of schizophrenia. Symptoms typically fall into three categories:
You may find your perception of things changing. People in this state often experience hallucinations, like hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t present. Some individuals fall into a delusional state where they cling to false beliefs without any supporting evidence. You may start to believe that people are looking to harm you, or think that you are receiving special signals through your TV or the internet.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia can include losing the motivation to get things done or losing interest in activities you once enjoyed. Many people in this state begin withdrawing from social activities. It can become harder for you to show emotional responses or function as usual.
Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia can include difficulty paying attention to people or concentrating on one thing. You may also start to experience problems with your memory, like forgetting appointments. It can become more difficult for you to learn information and immediately put it to use.
Types of schizophrenia
The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-IV, broke schizophrenia down into five different types:
- Paranoid— Individuals with this schizophrenia type hear things that aren’t there or have delusional thoughts.
- Disorganized— Individuals with this schizophrenia type show signs of disorganized speech and behavior. They also give off a flat affect when interacting with others.
- Catatonic — Individuals with catatonic schizophrenia can appear to be in a trance or seizure state. They may lose consciousness and have a rigid body. Other characteristics exhibited by people with catatonic schizophrenia include resisting being moved, unusual posturing, repeating what others say, or imitating others’ movements.
- Undifferentiated — People with undifferentiated schizophrenia show behaviors from two or more different types of schizophrenia.
- Residual Type — Individuals with this type have a history of schizophrenia but are currently not showing symptoms.
Changes made in the DSM-5 eliminated the five category types for schizophrenia. It now rates the disorder on a scale that looks at the number of symptoms exhibited and their severity.
Causes of schizophrenia
Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia, including:
- Genetics — Research shows that schizophrenia may be an inherited family trait. However, having a family member with the disorder does not necessarily mean you will end up with schizophrenia.
- Environment — Growing up in stressful surroundings can play a role in the development of schizophrenia.
- Brain structure and function — The structures in a person’s brain and the way it functions can contribute to the potential onset of schizophrenia. Brain infections may also make you more vulnerable to developing the disorder.
- Problems during and after birth — Issues like being deprived of oxygen at delivery or having a low birth weight can play a role in the eventual onset of schizophrenia.
Diagnosis/tests for schizophrenia
There are no tests geared exclusively toward diagnosing schizophrenia. A doctor usually makes this determination after assessing your symptoms and going over your medical history. A doctor will examine the length of time you’ve shown potential signs of schizophrenia and evaluate how they impact your ability to function in daily life.
Lab testing may be requested to rule out other causes for your symptoms, like a brain tumor or thyroid disorder. This can include imaging like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans.
Treatments for schizophrenia
Treatment plans for schizophrenia typically include antipsychotic drugs and individual psychotherapy, as well as social skills training, family therapy, and vocational rehabilitation. There is no known cure for schizophrenia. Doctors usually aim to reduce the severity of the symptoms and prevent new episodes from occurring.
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Mayo Clinic: "Schizophrenia."
Merck Manual: "Schizophrenia."
National Institute of Mental Health: "Schizophrenia."
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: "Impact of the DSM-IV to DSM-5 Changes on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health [Internet]."