Schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that causes patients to interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia can result in some combination of delusions, hallucinations, and very disordered behaviour and thinking which impairs daily functioning, and can ultimately be disabling.

Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment.

Causes

The causes of schizophrenia is still unknown, however researchers say that that a combination of brain chemistry, genetics, and environment that contributes to the development of the mental disorder.

Problems with some naturally occurring brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters known as glutamate and dopamine, can be contributing factors to schizophrenia. Neuroimaging studies demonstrate differences in the central nervous system and brain structure of patients who suffer from schizophrenia. While researchers are uncertain about the importance of these changes, they do indicate that schizophrenia is in fact a brain disease.

Risk factors

Even though the exact cause of schizophrenia is yet to be determined, certain factors do seem to enhance the risk of a person developing or triggering the condition. These risk factors include:

  • Older age of the father
  • Having a family history of schizophrenia
  • Taking psychotropic or psychoactive drugs during one’s teen years and young adulthood
  • Increased immune system activation, for instance from autoimmune diseases or inflammation
  • Some pregnancy or birth complications

Symptoms

Schizophrenia is accompanied by a range of problems with cognition, behaviour or emotions. The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia may differ, but typically involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech, and demonstrate an impaired ability to function. Symptoms of schizophrenia may include:

  • Delusions – Delusions are false beliefs that are in no way based in reality. For example, a patent might believe that they are being harmed or harassed; that certain gestures or comments are directed at them; that they have an exceptional ability or fame; that another person is in love with them; or the belief that a major catastrophe is about to happen.
  • Hallucinations – Hallucinations generally involve hearing or seeing things that do not exist. However, for the person suffering from schizophrenia, these hallucinations have the full force and impact of an ordinary experience. Hallucinations can arise in any of the senses, but the most common hallucination is hearing voices.
  • Disorganized thinking – Disorganized thinking is conditional on disorganized speech. Effective communication can become vastly impaired, and answers to questions could be partially or completely unrelated to the topic on hand. Seldom, speech may include combining meaningless words that cannot possibly be understood – this is often referred to as word salad.
  • Extremely disorganized or abnormal motor behaviour – This can arise in a number of ways, from unpredictable agitation to childlike silliness. The patient’s behaviour is not focused on a goal, making it harder to perform tasks. Behaviour can include an unwillingness to obey instructions, a complete lack of response, inappropriate or bizarre posture, or useless and unnecessary movement.
  • Negative symptoms – The negative symptoms refer to reduced or lack of ability to function like a regular person. For example, the patient may show negligence toward personal hygiene or appear to emotionless. The patient may also lose interest in everyday activities, demonstrate social withdrawal or lack the capability to experience pleasure.