Schizophrenia is a biologically based brain disease that seriously impairs a person’s ability to think clearly and relate to others. Someone with schizophrenia has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary, and is often unresponsive and withdrawn.Back to top
There are two categories of symptoms that are displayed by people with schizophrenia. “Positive” symptoms are disturbances that are “added” to someone’s personality. “Negative” symptoms are capabilities that are “lost.”
The signs of schizophrenia are not the same for everyone. Symptoms may develop so gradually you may not notice them at first. Or they may appear very suddenly. The disease may come and go in cycles of relapse and remission. Some people may have only one psychotic episode. Others may have symptoms for a lifetime.
The following behaviors may be early warning signs of schizophrenia. If you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, or if the behavior seems extreme or unusual, seek medical help immediately.
Remember that the appearance of these warning signs does not necessarily mean that a person has schizophrenia. Only a qualified health professional can make a diagnosis.Back to top
No. Split personality, or multiple personality disorder, is an extremely rare condition and is completely separate from schizophrenia.Back to top
Scientists do not have a unanimous agreement as to the cause of schizophrenia. Like heart disease and diabetes, schizophrenia is a biologically based illness. Evidence indicates that the brains of persons with schizophrenia, as a group, are different than those who do not have the illness, and patients with schizophrenia have an overabundance of the brain chemical dopamine. A genetic factor is supported by research. Also, many persons with schizophrenia claim that stressful events are a prelude to a psychotic break.Back to top
Although there is no cure, medication can help treat the symptoms and allow people with schizophrenia to lead productive and fulfilling lives. In fact, research shows that the best time to treat schizophrenia is the very first time symptoms appear.
The most effective treatments to date for schizophrenia are antipsychotic medications. Studies indicate that these drugs are highly effective for 70 percent of patients with schizophrenia. Support groups can also be a valuable adjunct in the treatment of schizophrenia-related disorders.Back to top
Antipsychotic drugs, like all medications, can have unwanted effects along with their beneficial effects. During the early phases of drug treatment, patients may be troubled by side effects such as drowsiness, restlessness, muscle spasms, tremor, dry mouth, or blurring of vision. Most side effects can be corrected by lowering the dosage or by other taking other medications. Different patients have different treatment responses and side effects to various antipsychotic drugs. A patient may do better with one drug than another.
Long-term side effects, on the other hand can consist of Tardive Dyskinesia (TD), which is characterized by involuntary movements. These movements most often affect the mouth, lips and tongue, and sometimes the trunk or other parts of the body such as arms and legs. Antipsychotic medications developed in recent years all appear to have a much lower risk of producing TD than the older, traditional antipsychotics. However, newer medications can still produce side effects such as weight gain and social withdrawal.Back to top
News and entertainment media tend to link mental illness and criminal violence; however, studies indicate that except for those persons with a record of criminal violence before becoming ill, and those with substance abuse or alcohol problems, people with schizophrenia are not especially prone to violence.
People with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. They are no more likely to become violent than anyone else. In fact, one of the characteristics of the illness is to withdraw from society. Contrary to popular belief, people with schizophrenia tend to be fearful of others.Back to top
A patient’s support system may come from several sources, including family members, case managers, friends, churches and residential or day program providers. The National Schizophrenia Foundation also administers and supports over 150 Schizophrenics Anonymous support groups nationwide.Back to top