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Schizophrenia Fast Facts

Schizophrenia is a leading cause of disability among people with mental illness, and the disorder puts sufferers at risk of homelessness, incarceration, and serious health problems.

The disorder commonly first appears in late adolescence or early adulthood. Onset tends to be earlier in men than in women.

About half of people with schizophrenia are also affected by another mental and/or behavioral disorder.

Almost 5% of people with schizophrenia will die by suicide. This is a much higher suicide rate than that in the general population. Suicide risk is greatest in the early stages of the disorder.

Schizophrenia likely affects about 1% of the adult population in the United States. That means that approximately 2.8 million people are dealing with the disorder.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that causes difficulty in interpreting and reacting to real-life situations. The disorder can cause hallucinations and delusions, and these false perceptions can lead to irrational, dysfunctional behavior.

Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires treatment throughout the lifetime of the sufferer. Symptoms may be effectively managed with medications, but consistent adherence to the treatment plan is very important.

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually appear in men in the early to mid-20s. Onset in women is typically later, usually in the late 20s to early 30s. Onset in children or in people over the age of 45 is rare. Symptoms may come and go, and not all symptoms may be present at the same time.

Symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • Hallucinations. These are perceptions of things that aren’t really there. Hallucinations can affect all of the senses, but it’s most common for a sufferer to hear things (such as voices) that aren’t real. To the sufferer, the hallucinations seem just as real as everything else in the world around them.
  • Delusions. These are beliefs in situations or circumstances that don’t exist. For example, sufferers often feel as if they are the target of harassment or persecution. Delusions may be supported by hallucinations.
  • Abnormal movement or behavior. These behaviors may include irrational or odd physical movements, facial expressions, or agitated outbursts. The behavior may appear to be unrelated to anything that is going on around the sufferer.
  • Irrational thought processes and speech. The sufferer may be unable to interact or communicate effectively with others. Their speech may seem to be unrelated to the situation, and they may not be able to respond rationally.

In addition to these active symptoms, sufferers may also experience “negative” symptoms, which are characterized by the absence of normal functioning. They may withdraw from daily routines and emotional engagement, and they may neglect hygiene, health care, and other functional concerns.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. It’s likely caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, chemical interactions in the brain, and external environmental situations or events.

People with a family history of schizophrenia are more likely to develop the disorder, and the brains of people with schizophrenia have been shown, through imaging studies, to function differently than healthy brains. These findings suggest that the disorder has a genetic component and that it involves physical dysfunction in the brain. The precise mechanism by which these factors come together to produce schizophrenia, however, has not yet been discovered.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

There is a general consensus among scientists that genetics play a significant role in the development of schizophrenia. Several studies have estimated that between 50% and 80% of the risk of developing the disorder comes from inherited genetic traits. A broader study in 2017 put the heritability rate at the top end of that range, suggesting that about 80% of the risk comes from an individual’s genes.

By any measure, it is clear that a family history of schizophrenia is an important risk factor. If an individual has a parent or sibling with schizophrenia, they are six times more likely to develop the disorder themselves.

Scientists have not yet determined which genes introduce a schizophrenia risk, and the risk probably comes from a complex interaction of multiple genes.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

There is a general consensus among scientists that genetics play a significant role in the development of schizophrenia. Several studies have estimated that between 50% and 80% of the risk of developing the disorder comes from inherited genetic traits. A broader study in 2017 put the heritability rate at the top end of that range, suggesting that about 80% of the risk comes from an individual’s genes.

By any measure, it is clear that a family history of schizophrenia is an important risk factor. If an individual has a parent or sibling with schizophrenia, they are six times more likely to develop the disorder themselves.

Scientists have not yet determined which genes introduce a schizophrenia risk, and the risk probably comes from a complex interaction of multiple genes.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?

The symptoms of schizophrenia can be similar to those of other neurological conditions or illnesses, substance abuse, other mental illnesses, or various medical issues. Therefore, the initial diagnostic process involves ruling out these other potential causes of the symptoms.

Diagnostic steps will probably include:

  • Physical exam. This exam will look for physical problems or illnesses that might explain the symptoms.
  • Laboratory tests and imaging exams. These tests and exams may be ordered if the doctor suspects an underlying medical condition could account for the symptoms.
  • Psychological assessment. If medical causes are ruled out, the doctor may call for a psychiatric evaluation to rule out other mental health conditions or to confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The mental health practitioner will use the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to determine if a diagnosis is appropriate.

PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR MORE INFORMATION.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Schizophrenia Treated?

Treatment of schizophrenia is primarily based on medications used to control symptoms. Psychotherapy may be used to build coping skills and improve functioning once symptoms are brought under control by medication. Life-long treatment is required, and patients must continue to take medication even when symptoms are not present. Discontinuing treatment when the disorder appears to be under control can lead to a relapse.

Medications

Antipsychotic drugs are used to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia. Typically, doctors will attempt to use the minimum dosage of medications required to keep symptoms under control. Some of the medications have potentially serious side effects, and sometimes the side effects discourage patients from continuing treatment, leading to a relapse of the disorder. The course of treatment may include using different drugs in different combinations or at different dosages in an attempt to find the optimal treatment.

Drugs commonly used to treat schizophrenia include:

  • First-generation antipsychotics. These drugs include chlorpromazine, fluphenazine, haloperidol, and perphenazine. These drugs are often available at a lower cost than newer medications, but they also come with the risk of potentially serious side effects.
  • Second-generation antipsychotics. These newer drugs include aripiprazole, asenapine, brexpiprazole, cariprazine, clozapine, iloperidone, lurasidone, olanzapine, paliperidone, quetiapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone. These medications tend to have fewer side effects than older antipsychotics.

Psychotherapy

After a successful treatment plan using medications has been established, a variety of therapies may be used to provide further support. Individual psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy, vocational rehabilitation, and social therapies are often used.

Other Interventions

When symptoms are severe, treatment may require hospitalization. In cases where schizophrenia does not respond to medication, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be an option.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How does Schizophrenia Progress?

Untreated schizophrenia very often leads to serious consequences. The symptoms commonly drive the sufferer away from loved ones and social support systems, putting them at risk of situations that can have a profound impact on their health.

As the symptoms prevent the sufferer from functioning in a safe, productive way, the likelihood that they will develop social, legal, and health problems become greater.

Left untreated over time, schizophrenia can lead to complications that include:

  • Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or successful suicide
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Lack of success at school or work
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Mental illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Financial problems
  • Homelessness
  • Exposure to dangerous situations and crime
  • Legal problems

In rare cases, schizophrenia can produce aggressive, violent behavior. Sufferers are also at risk of coming into conflict with law enforcement because their behavior is often treated as criminal, rather than as a mental health issue.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

How is Schizophrenia Prevented?

Because the cause of schizophrenia remains unknown, there’s no known way to prevent the disorder from occurring in the first place. Once schizophrenia has been diagnosed and an effective treatment plan is in place, however, relapses of symptoms can often be successfully prevented.

It’s important to continue taking medications as directed by your healthcare providers, even after your symptoms have diminished. If the medication is causing side effects, it is much better to work with your provider to find a better solution than to simply stop taking the medication on your own.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Schizophrenia Caregiver Tips

When the symptoms of schizophrenia are severe, sufferers may be incapable of safely taking care of themselves. The weight of responsibility on caregivers when their loved ones are coping with the disorder is great.

To keep your loved one and yourself as safe and healthy as possible, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be an active advocate for your loved one’s treatment. Schizophrenia patients often don’t have an accurate perception of their disorder or how to treat it. It’s up to caregivers to be sure that treatment plans are working and that they’re being followed. Don’t depend on your loved one’s judgment in seeking treatment.
  • Take suicidal thoughts and attempts seriously. Suicide risk for schizophrenia sufferers is real. Don’t let your loved one be unsupported in risky situations, and seek professional help when you see signs of suicidal thoughts.
  • Be safe in dangerous situations. There may be times when your loved one’s erratic or irrational behavior requires you to call 911 to get them the medical attention they need. Be aware that many law enforcement agencies are not effectively trained or equipped to deal with mental health situations. Provide as much information as you can to first responders to help keep your loved one safe.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Schizophrenia Brain Science

Scientists don’t know exactly what’s going on in the brains of people with schizophrenia. Research has provided some clues, though, and several different theories of possible brain-chemistry sources of the symptoms have been developed.

Dopamine is a brain chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter, a substance that allows the brain’s nerve cells to communicate with one another. Among other functions, dopamine helps us to think and plan for the consequences of our actions. Scientists believe that dopamine plays some role in the symptoms of schizophrenia because drugs that block dopamine are often effective at treating schizophrenia. This suggests that excessive or abnormal dopamine processing in the brain could be a cause.

NMDA receptors are areas of brain cells that respond to the neurotransmitter glutamate. Some drugs, such as ketamine, affect these receptors and produce effects (hallucinations, etc.) similar to schizophrenia symptoms. This has led some researchers to believe a problem with NMDA receptors could underlie schizophrenia.

Other theories suggest that defects in the way that the brain processes chemicals and sends signals between nerve cells on a molecular level could be responsible for the development of schizophrenia.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

Schizophrenia Research

Scientists are working on several research projects to expand on what is known about Schizophrenia.  The research will improve knowledge about the factors that increase the risk for Schizophrenia, as well as the causes, and best treatments, and will aid people living with Schizophrenia and their caregivers.

We are currently gathering the information required to support projects such as Imaging Dopamine D2 Agonist Binding Sites in Schizophrenia, Reducing Hippocampal Hyperactivity and Improving Cognition in Schizophreniaand Restoration of Cognitive Function With TDCS and Training in Schizophrenia.

*The medical information we gather and publish is vetted and intended to be up to date, accurate and express a spectrum of recognized scientific and medical points of view. The information comes from a nucleus of informed scientists, medical doctors, peer-reviewed scientific journals and the National Institute of Health. Please note, differing points of view among scientists and physicians are common. Every effort is employed to ensure the accuracy of these different points of view. That notwithstanding, it is incumbent on persons using this information to consult with his/her physician before reaching any conclusions. Our medical information and publications are not intended to be a substitute for consultation with one’s physician.

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