If you or your loved one are struggling with schizophrenia, Vermilion is here to help. Learning about schizophrenia can help you or your loved one manage its symptoms.
Learn about schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is an extremely debilitating mental health disorder that makes it hard for an individual to distinguish reality from what is not real. They may see or hear things that do not really exist, speak in a strange manner, and believe that people are trying to harm them. Additionally, things such as colors, sounds, or even tastes may seem altered in a bizarre way. Furthermore, individuals with schizophrenia have problems managing their emotions, relating to others, and functioning in normal manner.
If you or a loved one suspect schizophrenia, it is important to see a medical professional as soon as possible in order to get a proper evaluation. The earlier that this chronic disorder is detected and treated, the better the outcome. With support, medication, and therapy many individuals with schizophrenia are able to learn to function independently and live satisfying lives.
With initial onset occurring in a person’s late teens to mid-thirties, it is estimated that 1% of the population is diagnosed with schizophrenia. Men and women are reported as being equally diagnosed with the disorder. In terms of onset, it is uncommon to experience the initial onset over the age of forty-five.
Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia
The exact causes for schizophrenia is not known, but it appears by researchers that schizophrenia usually develops from a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors. Below are some of the most commonly cited factors that could lead to the development of schizophrenia:
Genetic: Many experts believe that schizophrenia has strong genetic component and individuals with first degree relatives who has schizophrenia have a 10 percent chance of developing the disorder themselves. This is much higher than the 1 percent chance of the general population.
Physical: Increased or decreased amounts dopamine and serotonin, two chemicals in the brain that are responsible for managing one’s mood, can bring about the symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Additionally, abnormalities in brain structure such as enlarged brain ventricles, indicating a deficit in volume of brain tissue, may play a role in the development of this disorder. There is also evidence of low activity in the frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning, and decision making.
Environmental: Exposure to environmental influences while in utero is believed to be a major factor in determining whether or not a person will develop schizophrenia. Scientists have found that malnutrition and exposure to viruses before birth could render a person more susceptible to developing the disease. Research has also shown that complications during birth could also lead to the onset of schizophrenia later in life.
- Family history of schizophrenia
- Family history of other mental health disorders
- Having a father who is older aged
- Exposure to viruses, toxins, or malnutrition while in the womb
- Taking mood-altering substances
- Having a pre-existing autoimmune disease
- Having a pre-existing mental disorder
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia
The symptoms of schizophrenia will differ from one person to the next and can appear gradually or suddenly without any warning. At first the symptoms of schizophrenia may include mild feelings of tension, inability to sleep or concentrate, and loss of interest in the world around them. As the illness progresses, those with schizophrenia will experience psychosis where they will have incorrect perceptions and thoughts about reality. The behavior of adolescents with schizophrenia may present differently than adults, developing gradually often in the form of a child talking about strange fears or ideas. The symptoms of the disorder are broken into three subsets and include:
Positive symptoms: Positive symptoms refer to additional mental disturbances in the individual’s perception of reality that do not normally exist. Examples of positive symptoms include:
- Disorganized behaviors
- Disorganized speech
Negative symptoms: Negative symptoms refer to reduced or lack of ability to function normally. These symptoms include:
- Flat affect
- Loss of interest or enthusiasm
- Diminished personal hygiene
- Inability to speak
- Inability to concentrate
Cognitive symptoms: Cognitive deficits can also occur as a result of having schizophrenia. These symptoms include:
- Inability to focus attention
- Problems with memory
- Impaired executive functioning
Effects of schizophrenia
If an individual with schizophrenia does not get proper treatment, almost all areas of life will be negatively affected leaving an individual unable to function on a daily basis. Schizophrenia is a difficult, often isolating disease that can have many long-term effects. Depending on the severity of the symptoms experienced, the following outcomes could occur:
- Relationship problems
- Inability to maintain a job
- Unable to attend school
- Aggressive behavior
- Chronic hospitalization
- Socially isolated and withdrawn
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Higher risk for health issues
- Increased paranoia
- Extreme phobias
- High levels of anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders
Substance abuse disorders are usually the most common co-occurring disorders for someone that has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is especially true for those individuals who are not getting proper treatment, as drugs and alcohol are often used as a way to self-medicate and escape from the negative side effects of schizophrenia. In addition to substance abuse disorders, the following are some other co-occurring disorders that can be present together with schizophrenia:
- Panic disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Schizotypal disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder