By: Aqsa Jan
Schizophrenia is a type of mental illness that affects how the brain works. This type of illness involves a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion and behavior, which in turn leads to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings. It also withdraws the person from reality and submerges them into a world of fantasy and delusion. Almost everyone that is inflicted with this illness is unable to function properly showing signs such as delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation.
Researchers estimate that schizophrenia affects approximately 0.3 percent to 0.7 percent of people (between 3 in 1000 and 7 in 1000). Schizophrenia affects people from all racial backgrounds and ethnicities. It is more commonly found in men rather than in women. There are two major categories of symptoms for schizophrenia, Positive and Negative symptoms. These terms don’t refer whether if symptoms are good or bad but rather to the way the symptoms present themselves. Positive symptoms are active problems that should not be present in a patient such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech and thinking. Now let’s look at how these symptoms are defined in relation to schizophrenia. During hallucination, a person hears, sees, feels or smells something that is not actually present. Most often people experience hearing voices which can be either reassuring or threatening. Delusions are false beliefs that other people can’t relate to. Someone with a delusion cannot be simply reasoned with for example, someone with schizophrenia might believe he is subject of government conspiracy. Lastly, Disorganized speech, people with disorganized speech may become difficult to understand because their sentences are unconnected or they tend to change topics that does not make sense of the conversation. Furthermore, there are negative symptoms that indicate absence of a specific characteristic such as decrease in ability to speak, express emotion or find pleasure. Some people may also display cognitive symptoms like difficulty remembering, planning activities or even concentrating. The early symptoms of schizophrenia often start to appear gradually but then become more obvious over time. Typical age for symptoms is between adolescence and a person’s mid-30s. However, they can appear early or later, in women symptoms tend to begin at a later age than men. Even now scientists are learning how schizophrenia affects the brain, as the condition tend to alter how the brain functions. Some of the brain regions that are thought to be affected by schizophrenia are Medial temporal lobe (causing problems with the memory), Superior temporal lobe (causing processing auditory information), and Prefrontal lobe (causing problems with decision-making and inhibition). There isn’t a simple blood test or brain scan that can identify weather if a patient is suffering from schizophrenia. A physician usually checks the medical history of patient thoroughly and then runs a medical exam. A clinician then needs to rule out any other conditions that can cause hallucinations or delusions in order to correctly identify schizophrenia. Some of the other conditions that are known to cause similar symptoms to schizophrenia include Substance-related disorders, Dementia, endocrine and inflammatory conditions, Brain tumor and Delirium. The time period for symptoms is also crucial in diagnosis. The person must have at least a six-month period of symptoms before that person could be classified as a schizophrenia, if the time period less than a month then diagnosis may instead be called a brief psychotic disorder. Some people may have symptoms for over a month but less than six months might be diagnosed with something called schizophreniform disorder. These people have persistent symptoms and my later be officially diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The causes of schizophrenia are complex and not easily definable but through some researches there were risk factors identified. Genetic is one of the reasons for having schizophrenia. One is more likely to have schizophrenia if one inherits certain variations of genes from parents. People who have a relative with schizophrenia have somewhat of a risk of having schizophrenia themselves. Identical twins (who share the same DNA) are more likely to have schizophrenia than fraternal twins (who do not share a DNA). This shows that genes play an important role in triggering schizophrenia. Various environmental and psychological factors have been linked to schizophrenia which include obstetric complications at childbirth, infection of the central nervous system in early childhood, childhood trauma, social stress etc.
Ideally, treatment for schizophrenia combines multidisciplinary approach from a team of expert health professionals. Early treatment is also helpful in preventing schizophrenia. Elements regarding the treatment of schizophrenia include psychiatric medication, psychological treatment and social support. Antipsychotic medications form a very important part of treatment for schizophrenia. These medications can help reduce the symptoms and help prevent relapse. First of these antipsychotic was developed in 1950s. These are usually called typical antipsychotics. Some of these include Haldol (haloperidol) and Thorazine (chlorpromazine), these medications caused some side effects regarding movement, drowsiness and dry mouth. Scientist later developed new group of antipsychotics also known as atypical antipsychotics, these drugs mainly include Abilify (aripiprazole), Clozaril (clozapine), Zyprexa (olazapine), Seroquel (quetiapine), Invega (paliperidone). These new drugs don’t usually cause movement problems but are likely to cause weight gains and problems with metabolism, among other side effects.
Increasingly, many mental health providers realize that psychological treatment is very important in addressing schizophrenia. One form of psychotherapy is called cognitive behavioral therapy, it helps patients to identify and change their dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thoughts. No matter what therapy is used it is best to be honest as possible with your doctor or mental health professional, this way they can help in managing and coping with the symptoms. It is hard to know how a specific person will do after diagnosis. But the outlook for people with schizophrenia has improved over recent years, due to better psychiatric medications and more comprehensive psychological and social support. Schizophrenia is often a difficult illness to fully treat, but there is hope. Through consistent treatment many individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia can recover from many disease symptoms. People with schizophrenia need support from their families and community members in order to have a best chance of living full and active lives.