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Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disease. There is no specific cure that can erase the symptoms, forever. Symptoms are acute, and can be disabling, including psychotic episodes, and hallucinations. Proper treatment alleviates many symptoms, but those diagnosed with schizophrenia can expect symptoms to reoccur even with medication and other treatment. Extreme stress can exacerbate the illness.

Some schizophrenics may have periods of significant disability where they cannot work or function properly. The side effects of medication, and the difficulty in maintaining an appropriate medication balance, can also create problems. There is some evidence to support the idea that schizophrenia is hereditary, though it often skips a generation. There have been great strides in medical research, and there is cause for optimism. Though only one in five diagnosed schizophrenics will experience complete recovery, the diagnostic tests and treatments for schizophrenia are much improved, and patients and families can be comforted by the progress in these areas.

What are the symptoms?

The person suffering from schizophrenia is not usually the first one to notice the signs. Family members and friends often describe frightening changes in the behavior of the individual. The ‘acute’ phase of schizophrenia is characterized by the sudden onset of psychotic symptoms. The symptoms of schizophrenia can include some or all of the following.

  • Delusions
  • Incoherent speech, getting sidetracked
  • Hearing internal voices
  • Unusual or disorganized speech, thinking, or behavior
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to separate reality from fantasy
  • Withdrawal, lack of response to environment, catatonic behavior
  • Paranoia - believing that other people are reading your mind, controlling your thoughts or behavior, or plotting to harm you

How is it diagnosed and treated?

As with many other disorders and diseases that affect the brain, mental function and emotional stability, it is important to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing schizophrenia. People can suffer extreme mental disturbances, even psychosis, because of undiagnosed medical conditions. Doctors will usually do a physical exam and blood tests, as well as urine samples to be sure that the exhibited symptoms are not coming from drug or alcohol abuse.

Brain imaging tests like CAT scan and MRI testing are often done to determine the organic health of the brain, and how well it is functioning. Schizophrenics can be confused with people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder, because both disorders often involve periods of extreme elation or depression. Doctors will sometimes diagnose schizophrenia based on one episode or symptom where one of the following symptoms is exhibited:

  • Delusions
  • Voices that others can’t hear that seem to be talking to the person
  • Hallucinations
  • Voices that others can’t hear that seem to be talking to each other

To date, science has not uncovered a way to prevent schizophrenia. But, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or reduce relapse and hospitalization, and help schizophrenics to live a productive life. Antipsychotic medication can reduce psychotic symptoms and help the patient function. For patients with less severe symptoms, and for patients who have achieved control over psychotic symptoms, psychosocial therapy can be quite successful. This therapy focuses on improving the social function of the schizophrenic.

Other treatments can include:

  • Social Rehabilitation
  • Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Family Therapy
  • Group therapy and self-help groups

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About 1% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. That’s a little over 2 million people.

Schizophrenia affects both men and women, but it often appears earlier in men (late teens or early twenties). Symptoms in women usually appear in the late twenties or early thirties.

If you are in a crisis please call:
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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