Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, disabling brain disorder. It interferes with the way a person interprets reality. People with schizophrenia may:
These and other symptoms make it difficult for people with schizophrenia to have positive relationships with others.
The cause of schizophrenia is unknown but it is associated with problems in brain structure and chemistry. There may be some genetic role.
Schizophrenia does not develop because of one factor. You may have a gene that increases your chance of schizophrenia, but you may not develop the disease based on your environment. Environment means any outside factor like stress or infection.
Factors that may increase your chance of schizophrenia include:
Men typically develop symptoms in their late teens or early twenties. Schizophrenia in women tends to occur in their twenties or thirties. In rare cases, it is seen in childhood.
Symptoms often appear slowly. Early signs may include difficulty with relationships, school or work. The symptoms may become more disturbing and bizarre over time or occur in a matter of weeks or months.
Positive symptoms are behaviors that are not generally seen in healthy people. They may lose touch with reality with:
Negative symptoms are associated with breaks in normal emotions and behaviors, such as:
Cognitive symptoms are changes in memory and thinking, such as:
You, or a loved one or caregiver, will be asked about your symptoms and medical and mental health history. A physical exam will be done. A psychological exam may also be done.
It will take some time to confirm a schizophrenia diagnosis. Tests may be done to rule out other conditions or lifestyle habits such as drug use that can cause similar symptoms. Schizophrenia is diagnosed when 2 or more of the following symptoms occur and reduce ability of day to day life:
Schizophrenia is not curable, but symptoms can be reduced through treatment. Early, aggressive treatment can lead to better outcomes and may delay progression of schizophrenia to psychosis.
Hospitalization may be required during acute episodes. Symptoms are usually controlled with antipsychotic medications. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:
Antipsychotics work by blocking certain chemicals in the brain. This helps control the abnormal thinking that occurs in people with schizophrenia. Determining a drug plan can be a complicated process. Often medications or dosages need to be changed until the right balance is found. This can take months or even years. The right balance of medication will have the least amount of side effects possible with the greatest benefit.
It is important to continue taking the medication even if you are feeling better. Symptoms will return once the medication has been stopped. A long-acting injection instead of daily pills may be used if you have difficulty taking regular medication.
Antipsychotics also have side effects that may make it difficult to stick to a medication routine. Common side effects include:
Medications called atypical antipsychotics have fewer side effects and are better tolerated over long periods of time. However, these medications may cause significant weight gain, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
National Institute of Mental Health
National Alliance on Mental Illness
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Mental Health Canada
Counseling therapies for shizophrenia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T903876/Counseling-therapies-for-schizophrenia. Updated July 19, 2016. Accessed September 13, 2016.
Medications for shizophrenia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T905976/Medications-for-schizophrenia. Updated June 29, 2016. Accessed September 13, 2016.
Schizophrenia. American Psychiatric Association website. Available at: http://www.psychiatry.org/schizophrenia. Accessed February 22, 2016.
Schizophrenia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115234/Schizophrenia. Updated July 25, 2016. Accessed September 13, 2016.
Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml. Updated April 2, 2013. Accessed February 22, 2016.
4/29/2016 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Stafford MR, Jackson H, Mayo-Wilson E, Morrison AP, Kendall T. Early interventions to prevent psychosis: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2013;346:f185.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.