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Schizophrenia is a brain disorder in which it is problematic to tell the difference between unreal and real situations and to think in a logic fashion. Emotional responses are affected and the person's behaviour is abnormal.
Schizophrenia is so complex that no one knows what causes it. It appears to run in families and to be somewhat hereditary. If you have family members with schizophrenia, you are likely to get the condition yourself. Environmental triggers may also play a role in schizophrenia. Infection in utero or stressful experiences in your lifetime may trigger the disease as well. It is known that good support from your family and social structure can help improve the course of the disease.
About one percent of the world's population suffers from schizophrenia. It occurs in both men and women in equal percentages. It tends to be milder and occur later in life in women so that men tend to account for more than half of all patients at any given point in time. The disorder usually begins in young adulthood; however, there have been cases where the individual doesn't get it until they reach middle age. Children can get schizophrenia and can get it after the age of five. It is preceded by normal development. Schizophrenia in children is rare and can look like autism and other developmental diseases.
Schizophrenia has positive and negative symptoms. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia include the presence of hallucinations and delusions. The negative symptoms include the lack of socialization seen in the condition. The symptoms develop slowly over time and it cycles back and forth between relatively good periods of time and times where the symptoms are severe. Symptoms begin with feeling isolated and withdrawn from society and difficulty making friends. It progresses to include psychotic symptoms, such as a flat affect, bizarre movements, such as seen in catatonia, delusions and hallucinations. The individual cannot easily pay attention and has disordered thinking, or thoughts jumping between topics that are unrelated.
Symptoms can be different, depending on the type of schizophrenia. There is paranoid schizophrenia, where the person feels as though people are out to hurt them. There is disorganized thinking in some types of schizophrenia, in which thoughts are difficult to be expressed clearly. Catatonic people can be overactive or severely underactive. Undifferentiated types may have more than one type of schizophrenia associated with their behaviour. Residual schizophrenia are those who have some but not as many symptoms as they used to have.
There may be difficulty in keeping friends and in working. The person can also have concomitant depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
Doctors do a mental status examination and other tests to see if you have schizophrenia. A thorough interview can often show the presence of thought disorders like schizophrenia. There are no blood tests for schizophrenia and no x-rays that can tell if you have the disorder. The diagnosis is completely based on evidence that fits into a category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for psychiatric disorders. Doctors look at how long the symptoms have lasted, changes form level of function before illness, developmental background, genetic and family history and response to medication.
Treatment of schizophrenia may involve a hospitalization in order to stabilize the individual. Medications include antipsychotic medications that control most of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia. The medications alter the neurotransmitter levels in the brain and improve these symptoms. The negative symptoms of schizophrenia are more difficult to treat. Side effects of the medication include sleepiness or dizziness and weight gain along with an increased incidence of hyperlipidemia, obesity and diabetes.
The long term risk of taking antipsychotic medications involve a diagnosis of tardive dyskinesia. This involves movements of the extremities and mouth that you can't stop on your own. There are medications that can counteract tardive dyskinesia but the condition is permanent.
Supportive therapy can help some patients with schizophrenia. It helps them deal with their day to day problems. Family therapy can help families cope with the patient with the disease. Education about the disease is especially important for families.
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