|   Answering your mental health questions

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that significantly alters how a person thinks, feels, behaves and perceives the world around them. There are several different types of this mental illness that are distinguishable by their most dominant symptoms, including disorganized, catatonic and paranoid schizophrenia. However, all forms of schizophrenia share a symptom set that can range from symptoms consistent with depression, to hallucinations and delusions.

Potential Causes and Risk Factors for Schizophrenia

No one is sure exactly what causes schizophrenia, but certain factors seem to increase a person’s risk of developing it, including:

  • Biology. A probable cause of schizophrenia is a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have revealed that the brain structure and central nervous system of schizophrenics are different than normal.
  • Prenatal health problems. Some experts believe that nutritional deficiency or exposure to certain toxins or viruses during the earlier stages of fetal development can predispose someone to having schizophrenia later.
  • Genetics. People with a history of schizophrenia in their family are at increased risk of developing the illness.
  • Father’s age. There seems to be a potential link between schizophrenia and having an older father.

Although symptoms usually show up earlier in males (late teens to early 20s) than in females (late 20s to early 30s), gender is not a risk factor because schizophrenia affects both males and females equally.

Schizophrenia Treatment

The primary form of treatment for schizophrenia is medication, most commonly antipsychotic drugs, although other medications, such as those that target anxiety, may also be prescribed. It often takes time and multiple trials to find the combination and dosages of medication that are right for each person: the ideal treatment is the minimum amount of schizophrenia medications that will still effectively get rid of symptoms.

Did You Know?

Experts estimate that as many as 1 percent of people worldwide suffer from schizophrenia, but according to the World Health Organization, 90 percent of those not receiving proper care live in developing countries.

Because schizophrenia is a chronic condition, medication must be taken on a consistent and ongoing basis for the rest of a person’s life in order to continue to be effective in managing their symptoms. This need for continual use poses a particular problem in the treatment of schizophrenia, as some sufferers are prone to going off their schizophrenia drugs once their symptoms subside, especially if they have been experiencing side effects. When their symptoms resurface, they may not be able to recognize them or the need to start taking medication again to curb them.

Once an effective schizophrenia medication dosage has been established, other forms of treatment can be introduced, such as individual and family therapy to learn how to better live with schizophrenia.

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