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Nature of Schizophrenia

A Brain Disease

Schizophrenia is a brain disease that causes problems with normal brain functioning. People with this condition show odd and often highly irrational or disorganized behavior. The brain is where thinking, feeling and understanding of the world takes place). A brain disease, like schizophrenia, changes that thinking, feeling, and understanding. Symptoms include difficulty:

  • thinking clearly
  • interacting with others
  • completing tasks
  • expressing emotions

Even simple tasks like personal hygiene (bathing, eating, dressing, etc.) can become too difficult and are stopped. The disease can impact every aspect of the person's work, family, and social life. Family members frequently become distressed and overwhelmed by the challenges of ...


Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Schizophrenia?

  • Schizophrenia is a brain disease that causes problems with normal brain functioning.
  • People with this condition show odd and often highly irrational or disorganized behavior.
  • A brain disease, like schizophrenia, changes that thinking, feeling, and understanding.
  • Symptoms include difficulty thinking clearly, interacting with others, completing tasks and expressing emotions.
  • A key feature of schizophrenia is psychosis. This happens when a person loses the ability to tell the difference between real and 'imagined' experiences.
  • They lose touch with reality.
  • People with schizophrenia commonly experience: 1) hallucinations - sensations that only they experience. This can include voices speaking to them that only they can hear. 2) Delusions - fixed, mistaken ideas that the person holds. These are often odd or incorrect ideas about themselves and the world around them.

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What are common misconceptions about Schizophrenia?

  • It is not something caused by evil spirits, witchcraft, or being possessed by demons as was once widely believed.
  • It is also not caused by poor parenting or by brain damage.
  • It is not a form of an intellectual disability, dementia, delirium, or intoxication.
  • It is not a form of multiple personality disorder.
  • It has little to do with the tendency to be aggressive or violent.
  • There are many other common misconceptions about schizophrenia as well. The following statements are all false:
    • People never recover from schizophrenia
    • Schizophrenia is contagious
    • Most people with schizophrenia need to be institutionalized
    • People with schizophrenia are not able to make decisions about their own treatment
    • People with schizophrenia are likely to be violent
    • Most people with schizophrenia can't work
    • Jail is an appropriate place for people with schizophrenia

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How common is Schizophrenia?

  • Schizophrenia is not a terribly common disease but it can be a serious and life-long one.
  • Between 0.3% and 0.7% of the population is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO) approximately 21 million people worldwide have schizophrenia (12 million males and 9 million females).
  • Schizophrenia can affect people throughout the lifespan. However, it is most likely to first appear in the late teen years and the mid-30s.
  • It is fairly rare for children and older adults to develop schizophrenia, but it does happen.
  • The rate of diagnosis of new cases increases in the teen years, reaching a peak of vulnerability between the ages of 16 and 25 years.
  • Males are more likely to have their first episode in the early to mid-20s.
  • Females have two points where the first episodes are most likely to happen. The first is in the late-20s and the second is after 40 years of age.

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What are the symptoms of Schizophrenia?

  • Schizophrenia is identified by two groups of symptoms. These are called "positive" and "negative."
  • Positive symptoms are ones which are more than normal behavior. This group is further split into two groups. The "psychotic" group includes hallucinations and delusions. The "disorganized" one includes disorganized speech and behavior.
  • Negative symptoms involve missing behaviors compared to normal functioning. Examples include limited emotional expression, limited thought and speech, and lack of motivation.
  • Symptoms are not permanent things. Instead, they tend to change over time.
  • When enough symptoms are present and last for one month (or a shorter period if medication has been given) with some symptoms lasting for up to six months, a diagnosis of schizophrenia can be made.

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What is the cause of Schizophrenia?

  • Data from scientific research proves that schizophrenia is clearly a biological disease of the brain, just like Alzheimer's Disease and Bipolar Disorder.
  • Schizophrenia is now known to be partially caused by genetics and to be inherited.
  • People with schizophrenia have up to 25% less volume of gray matter in their brains, especially in the temporal and frontal lobes. These areas are known to be important for coordination of thinking and judgment.
  • Brains with schizophrenia are, on average, different in terms of total tissue volume and activity.
  • Brains with schizophrenia also show neurochemical differences when compared with normal brains.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) data are tests of brain electrical activity. About one-third of people with schizophrenia show abnormal electrical brain impulses. This also suggests irregularities in the way the brains of those with schizophrenia are wired.

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What is the Schizophrenia Spectrum?

  • The DSM defines schizophrenia as an individual condition characterized by a set of positive and/or negative symptoms lasting for at least six months and including at least one month of active-phase symptoms.
  • The DSM-5 also holds the idea that schizophrenia exists as a part of a continuum or spectrum of related conditions that share symptoms in common, and which may share causes as well.
  • When viewed as a continuum of disorders, schizophrenia can be seen to range between "normal" at one end (with no schizophrenia present at all), and severe schizophrenia at the other. Most individual cases fall somewhere in the middle of the scale.
  • There are also several personality disorders (Schizoid Personality Disorder and Schizotypal Personality Disorder) that appear to be best thought of as extremely mild schizophrenia spectrum problems. These conditions sit on the scale close to the 'normal' side of the spectrum.
  • Delusional disorder and schizophreniform disorder hold a middle position on the scale.
  • Finally, schizophrenia itself and a related condition, schizoaffective disorder, are on the extreme and severe end of the spectrum.

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What are treatments for Schizophrenia?

  • Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, it is successfully treatable with a combination of medications and supportive counseling.
  • Though both therapy types are important, medication is the most important. It is the only therapy that can effectively reduce the severe and overwhelming symptoms.
  • These medications can make symptoms milder, shorten the length of an episode, and increase the time between episodes.
  • Not all medications are equal and there is no single best treatment protocol. Different people respond best to different types and dosages of medicine.
  • Due to medication treatments today, the frequency and length of hospital stays have been greatly reduced. It may still be needed for the most severe cases.
  • Hospitalization is a time to get new patients started on medications, to evaluate or change existing medications, or to re-introduce medications to patients who have stopped taking them.
  • Most ongoing care takes place in outpatient settings, often at community mental health centers.
  • Individual and group therapy focuses on the person's present needs and includes medication monitoring, help in socializing and maintaining relationships, and finding needed resources.
  • Another vital therapy for people with schizophrenia is assistance with housing. Once symptoms have been stabilized, people with schizophrenia can benefit from self-help efforts.

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