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Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder that makes it difficult to:
Schizophrenia is a complex illness. Mental health experts are not sure what causes it. However, genetic factors appear to play a role.
Schizophrenia affects both men and women equally. It usually begins in the teen years or young adulthood, but may begin later in life. It tends to begin later in women, and is more mild.
Childhood-onset schizophrenia begins after age 5. Childhood schizophrenia is rare and can be difficult to tell apart from other developmental disorders of childhood, such as autism.
Schizophrenia symptoms usually develop slowly over months or years. Sometimes you may have many symptoms, and at other times you may only have a few.
People with any type of schizophrenia may have difficulty keeping friends and working. They may also have problems with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
At first, you may have the following symptoms:
As the illness continues, problems with thinking, emotions and behavior develop, including:
Symptoms can vary, depending on the type of schizophrenia you have.
Paranoid schizophrenia symptoms may include:
Disorganized schizophrenia symptoms may include:
Catatonic schizophrenia symptoms may include:
Undifferentiated schizophrenia symptoms may include symptoms of more than one other type of schizophrenia.
People with residual schizophrenia have some symptoms, but not as many as those who are in a full-blown episode of schizophrenia.
There are no medical tests to diagnose schizophrenia. A psychiatrist should examine the patient to make the diagnosis. The diagnosis is made based on a thorough interview of the person and family members. The doctor will ask questions about:
Brain scans (such as CT or MRI) and blood tests may help to rule out other disorders that have similar symptoms to schizophrenia.
During an episode of schizophrenia, you may need to stay in the hospital for safety reasons.
Antipsychotic medications are the most effective treatment for schizophrenia. They change the balance of chemicals in the brain and can help control symptoms/
These medications are usually helpful, but they can cause side effects. Many of these side effects can be improved, and should not prevent people from seeking treatment for this serious condition.
Common side effects from antipsychotics may include:
Long-term use of antipsychotic medications may increase your risk for a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia. This condition causes repeated movements that you cannot control, especially around the mouth. Call your doctor right away if you think you may have this condition.
When schizophrenia does not improve with several antipsychotics, the medication clozapine can be helpful. Clozapine is the most effective medication for reducing schizophrenia symptoms, but it also tends to cause more side effects than other antipsychotics.
Schizophrenia is a life-long illness. Most people with this condition need to stay on antipsychotic medication for life.
SUPPORT PROGRAMS AND THERAPIES
Supportive therapy may be helpful for many people with schizophrenia. Behavioral techniques, such as social skills training, can be used to improve social and work functioning. Job-training and relationship building classes are important.
Family members of a person with schizophrenia should be educated about the disease and offered support. Programs that emphasize outreach and community support services can help people who lack family and social support.
Family members and caregivers are often encouraged to help people with schizophrenia stick to their treatment.
It is important that the person with schizophrenia learns how to:
The outlook for a person with schizophrenia is difficult to predict. Most of the time, symptoms improve with medication. However, others may have difficulty functioning and are at risk for repeated episodes, especially during the early stages of the illness.
People with schizophrenia may need supported housing, job training, and other community support programs. People with the most severe forms of this disorder may not be able to live alone. Group homes or other long-term, structured places to live may be needed.
Symptoms will return if a person with schizophrenia does not take their medication.
Having schizophrenia increases your risk for:
Call your health care provider if:
There is no known way to prevent schizophrenia.
Symptoms can be prevented by taking medication. You should take your medication exactly as your doctor told you to. Symptoms will return if you stop taking your medication.
Always talk to your doctor if you are thinking about changing or stopping your medications. See your doctor or therapist regularly.
Leucht S, Corves C, Arbter D, Engel RR, Li C, Davis JM. Second-generation versus first-generation antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia: a meta-analysis. Lancet. 2009;373:31-41. Epub 2008 Dec 6.
Freudenreich O, Weiss AP, Goff DC. Psychosis and schizophrenia. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 28.