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Description

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Someone with schizophrenia may have difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. This individual may be unresponsive or withdrawn and might have difficulty expressing normal emotions in social situations.

Causes

The cause of schizophrenia is unknown. There are several theories about the cause of this disease and they include genetics, biology and possible viral infections and immune disorders. Schizophrenia usually affects those who are in late adolescence to early adulthood. However, schizophrenia can strike at any age. In men, the brain disease commonly happens between the age of 15 to 25 and 25 to 35 in women. According to research from University of Maryland's Medical Center, the disease affects both genders equally.

Factors

Factors that contribute to the development of schizophrenia are genetics, substance abuse, trauma, stress, and behavioral/environmental factors.

Genetics

Schizophrenia disorders tend to run in families. Genetically speaking, the risk of developing schizophrenia increases when multiple members of the family have already been affected.

Environment

Schizophrenia can also be triggered by environmental events, such as viral infections or highly stressful situations. Schizophrenia appears when the body undergoes hormonal and physical changes. Stress and trauma often trigger schizophrenia in those who may be genetically liable to have the disease.

Substance Abuse

Schizophrenia is not believed to be caused by substance abuse. However, people suffering from the disease are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Marijuana, hallucinogen, and stimulant use will worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia, making it even more difficult to treat.

Schizophrenia patients are also more likely to develop nicotine addictions. This is a big obstacle for treatment. Smoking regularly can weaken the effects of antipsychotic drugs, but withdrawal from nicotine will intensify symptoms.

There is a significant correlation between marijuana use and schizophrenia. Marijuana is believed to be a factor in the development of schizophrenia, especially when abused at a young age, while the brain has not fully developed.

Brain

Schizophrenia occurs in multiple parts of the brain, as opposed to just one specific area. The disease manifests primarily in the “limbic system” of the brain, which isn't actually its own system, but is used to describe multiple parts of the brain as a collective. The limbic system affects emotional functions, which in turn leads to affecting memory, behavior, and motivation.

Schizophrenia was thought to be caused by an excess of dopamine in the brain, however other neurotransmitter imbalances can also have an effect on dopamine levels, making the true cause difficult to pinpoint. The true cause, if there is only one singular cause, still remains unknown.

Genetics help to determine how the brain uses certain chemicals. Those with schizophrenia have a chemical imbalance of brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) which are neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters allow nerve cells in the brain to send messages to each other. The imbalance of these chemicals affects the way a person’s brain reacts to stimuli--which explains why a person with schizophrenia may be overwhelmed by sensory information (loud music or bright lights) which other people can easily handle. This problem in processing different sounds, sights, smells and tastes can also lead to hallucinations or delusions.

Frequency

According to NIHM, it is estimated that “7.2 per 1,000” people in the United States alone suffer from schizophrenia. Worldwide, it is estimated that 51 million people are living with this disease. These estimations do not include those suffering from schizophrenia that do not seek out psychiatric and medical attention, as they remain undocumented.

Symptoms

There are four terms a medical or mental health professional may use when discussing symptoms of schizophrenia: Positive symptoms, negative symptoms, cognitive symptoms, and emotional symptoms.

Positive Symptoms

Positive symptoms are disturbances that are “added” to the person’s personality.
  • Delusions -- false ideas--individuals may believe that someone is spying on him or her, or that they are someone famous.
  • Hallucinations – seeing, feeling, tasting, hearing or smelling something that does not really exist. The most common experience is hearing imaginary voices that give commands or comments to the individual.
  • Disordered thinking and speech -- moving from one topic to another, in a nonsensical fashion. Individuals may make up their own words or sounds.

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms are capabilities that are “lost” from the person’s personality.
  • Social withdrawal
  • Extreme apathy
  • Lack of drive or initiative
  • Emotional unresponsiveness

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms occur in an individual's thought process.
  • Can be positive or negative symptoms
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of drive or initiative
  • Emotional unresponsiveness

Emotional Symptoms

Emotional symptoms are within an individual's feelings.
  • Usually negative symptoms
  • Blunted emotions
  • Poor expression

Forms of Schizophrenia

  • Paranoid schizophrenia -- a person feels extremely suspicious, persecuted, or grandiose, or experiences a combination of these emotions.
  • Disorganized schizophrenia -- a person is often incoherent in speech and thought, but may not have delusions.
  • Catatonic schizophrenia -- a person is withdrawn, mute, negative and often assumes very unusual body positions.
  • Residual schizophrenia -- a person is no longer experiencing delusions or hallucinations, but has no motivation or interest in life.
  • Schizoaffective disorder -- a person has symptoms of both schizophrenia and a major mood disorder such as depression.

Diagnosis

A trained psychiatrist should diagnose schizophrenia. This is usually done through interviews with the patient, interviews with the family and friends, and careful analysis of the symptoms. A diagnoses of schizophrenia requires both positive and negative symptoms to be present.

Early diagnoses of schizophrenia, accompanied with early treatment, can prevent the patient from developing worse, more intense symptoms and allow them to live a healthy life. On the contrary, brain damage caused by schizophrenia will worsen over time if not treated properly.

Medicinal treatment is difficult. There is no cure, but symptoms can be controlled with current available antipsychotics, either conventional or atypical antipsychotic, depending on the patient’s needs. It is not uncommon for a patient suffering from schizophrenia to stop or avoid taking their prescribed medication due to paranoia and delusions. Discontinued use of antipsychotics will cause a relapse and symptoms may worsen.

Although schizophrenia has no cure, people with this disorder can still live fulfilling lives with the right treatment. People can possibly recover from this through a variety of services such as medication and rehabilitation programs. Rehabilitation may be able to provide the patient with confidence and the skills needed to live a productive and independent life.
Having early treatment as soon as possible is highly encouraged because it can increase the chances of a better long-term outcome.

Services

There are several types of services available to aid in the treatment of schizophrenia patients.
  • Case management helps people access services, financial assistance, treatment and other resources.
  • Psychosocial Rehabilitation Programs are programs that help people regain skills such as: employment, cooking, cleaning, budgeting, shopping, socializing, problem solving, and stress management.
  • Self-help groups provide on-going support and information to persons with serious mental illness by individuals who experience mental illness themselves.
  • Drop-in centers are places where individuals with mental illness can socialize and/or receive informal support and services on an as-needed basis.
  • Housing programs offer a range of support and supervision from 24 hour supervised living to drop-in support as needed.
  • Employment programs assist individuals in finding employment and/or gaining the skills necessary to re-enter the workforce.
  • Therapy/Counseling includes different forms of “talk” therapy, both individual and group, that can help both the patient and family members to better understand the illness and share their concerns.
  • Crisis Services include 24 hour hotlines, after hours counseling, residential placement and in-patient hospitalization.

Medications

The right kind of medication can help alleviate symptoms. They help to reduce the biochemical imbalances that cause schizophrenia and decrease the likelihood of relapse. These medications should be taken only under the supervision of a mental health professional.

There are two major types of antipsychotic medication:
  • Conventional Antipsychotics -- This medication effectively controls the “positive”symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and confusion of schizophrenia.
  • New Generation Antipsychotics(atypical) -- This medication treats both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia, often with fewer side effects.
Each type of medication has its benefits. The type of medication prescribed is determined by analyzing the individual patient's symptoms.

Side Effects

Side effects of these medications ranges from dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, drowsiness and dizziness, which usually disappear after a few weeks, to more serious side effects such as trouble with muscle control, pacing, tremors and facial ticks.





Interesting Articles

Shizophrenia, No One cause, No Simple Cure
Researchers Say Nicotine Helps Schizophrenics
Teen Tries to Quiet the Voices Causes By Schizophrenia

Citations/References

http://www.nmha.org/go/information/mental-health-info/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-what-you-need-to-know/schizophrenia-what-you-need-to-know
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/36942.php
http://umm.edu/Health/Medical/Ency/Articles/Schizophrenia
http://www.schizophrenia.com/hypo.php#
http://schizophrenia.com/szfacts.htm
http://www.brainexplorer.org/schizophrenia/Schizophrenia_aetiology.shtml
http://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/substance-abuse-schizophrenia
http://www.schizophrenia.com/prevention/cannabis.marijuana.schizophrenia.html

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