What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental illness. It affects the way you understand reality. People with schizophrenia may experience random hallucinations, delusions and distorted speech. This brain condition affects about 1% of Americans.

Causes of schizophrenia

There's no single cause of schizophrenia. Genetic, physical and environmental factors might all play roles. Scientists think these might determine whether someone gets schizophrenia. There's some evidence that a genetic error changes the way a person's brain works when they have schizophrenia.

Risk factors for schizophrenia

Schizophrenia runs in families. If you have relatives with the condition, you have a higher risk of getting it. It affects men and women in equal numbers. Men usually show signs at an earlier age than women. Other risk factors include:

  • Complications during birth
  • Having autoimmune diseases
  • Exposure to viruses before birth
  • Not getting good nutrition before birth
  • Your father's age when you were conceived
  • History of psychoactive or psychotropic drug use

Symptoms of schizophrenia

The symptoms of schizophrenia include problems with thinking, emotions and behavior. They vary in how severe they are, how long they last and how often they happen. The severity of the symptoms usually decreases as you get older. During an episode, you're unable to tell what's real and what isn't. Symptoms may also include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinating
  • Strange behavior
  • Abnormal movements
  • Inability to sense pleasure
  • Poor performance in school
  • Distorted beliefs and perceptions
  • Inability to speak or express emotions
  • Inability to concentrate or remember events
  • Confused and disordered thoughts and speech

You also may have trouble maintaining relationships. You could experience poor performance at work or have less motivation. 

Diagnosis of schizophrenia

A doctor diagnoses schizophrenia using certain criteria. These are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is a book that helps doctors diagnose symptoms of mental illness. Your doctor does a complete medical exam. This helps them rule out other causes of your symptoms. You also have a psychiatric evaluation. During this, the doctor asks about your family history and symptoms.

Treatments for schizophrenia

The primary treatment for schizophrenia is medication to control the disease's symptoms. These medications are called antipsychotic drugs. Your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. It can take time to find the right medication or combination of medications. It's not uncommon if you need to change drugs several times until you find the right one.

You might also benefit from psychological treatment. This can include working with a therapist. This professional can help you learn how to deal with stress. You can also find out how to identify signs of relapse and control your thought patterns. The therapist might recommend that you go to social skills training. There, you can learn how to boost your communication and social interaction skills. This helps you improve relationships. If your schizophrenia is severe, you may need vocational rehabilitation. These classes can help you find and keep jobs.

It's possible your brain might not respond to medications and psychological treatments. In that case, your doctor might recommend that you have electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). During this procedure, electrical pulses go through your brain from a special machine. The treatment works well for about 80% of the people who have it.

Recovery from schizophrenia

There is no cure for schizophrenia. Instead, treatment can help you manage the symptoms. It can also help you experience them less often. It's important that you follow your doctors' instructions. Take your medication. Talk with your treatment team. Many people with schizophrenia go to work or school. They spend time with their loved ones and enjoy hobbies. With effective treatments, you can lead a fulfilling life.