According to the definition provided by WebMD, schizophrenia is a “serious brain disorder that distorts the way a person thinks, acts, expresses emotions, perceives reality, and relates to others”. As you might imagine, this makes it incredibly difficult for a sufferer to function as what is deemed ‘normal’ in society. Behavior in environments like work, school or when socializing with others can be very outside of what is seen as being socially acceptable.
Although schizophrenia is a very rare condition – it affects only 0.32 percent of people across the world population  – it is also very chronic and debilitating, presenting a lifetime of issues for the sufferer themselves and all of their close acquaintances and loved ones.
There is no known cure for schizophrenia, but with the correct types of treatment and medication, it can certainly be managed. In order to be able to start managing the condition, however, it needs to first be diagnosed. With this in mind, here is some information about the classic symptoms of schizophrenia, along with some commonly identified causes.
Causes of Schizophrenia
Though no breakthrough has yet been made to determine why schizophrenia presents itself, there are a number of different factors that have been identified and cited as increasing the likelihood of developing the condition. These include:
Schizophrenia tends to run in families . For example, if you have a sibling or a parent who suffers with schizophrenia, you have a 10% chance of developing the condition yourself. If both your parents have it, this percentage rises significantly to 40%. If you have a schizophrenic identical twin, then your chance is even higher at 65%. It is important to note, however, that there is no specific ‘schizophrenia gene’.
Certain environmental factors have been reported as being linked to the development of schizophrenia. These include things like prenatal exposure to different types of viral infections and insufficient nutrition in utero. Both of these are particularly notable during the first 6 months of a pregnancy. Taking certain recreational drugs has also been linked with schizophrenia, and this includes both psychoactive and psychotropic narcotics like LSD, marijuana and methamphetamines. The theory is that the younger you begin taking these drugs, the more likely you are to be at risk of developing schizophrenia.
Abnormal Brain Structure
Schizophrenia can occur as the result of various abnormalities in the structure of a person’s brain. When compared with images of a ‘normal’ brain, brain scans of people with schizophrenia revealed larger ventricles and fewer connections between brain cells. Also, the medial temporal lobes, the parts of the brain that deal with memory, are notably smaller.
Along with the various prenatal factors noted above, a handful of complications that can occur during the gestational period have also been highlighted as possible links to schizophrenia in later life. These include premature labor, a very low weight at birth and a lack of oxygen during the birthing process. All of these factors have been linked with schizophrenia due to the fact that they can all have subtle effects on brain development.
While stress cannot be put forward as a direct cause of schizophrenia, it is considered to be a big trigger for people who have already been diagnosed with the condition. Because of this, it is incredibly important for a schizophrenia patient to live as consistent and stress free a life as they possibly can.
Common Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Delusions are probably the most common symptom that is associated with schizophrenia, occurring in more than 90 percent of diagnosed patients. A common scenario is one of persecution, where a sufferer will believe that someone or something is out to get them. Another is called ‘delusions of reference’, in which a person might believe that they are being communicated with via someone on the television or on the radio for example.
Schizophrenics also commonly have hallucinations, in which they will experience sensations that exist only in their minds, but that feel completely real to them. All five of the senses – taste, sight, smell, touch and sound – can be involved in hallucinations, which is what makes them so believable for the person experiencing them. Hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination, but these voices are only the patient’s internal self-talk being heard as though from a separate person.
Concentration And Speech Organization Issues
Many people with schizophrenia report trouble being able to concentrate, but way beyond any trouble that a non-schizophrenic person might have when distracted or tired, for example. They can struggle to follow along when others are speaking to them, appearing to zone out in a world of their own. In addition, the way that their own thoughts are jumbled can lead to a disorganized pattern of speech that makes them hard to understand or follow sometimes.
Schizophrenia can disrupt attempts at things like goal-oriented activity, which ends up impairing a patient’s ability to stick to one task or thing for any length of time. What this manifests as to an ‘outsider’ is not being able to take care of oneself or to work properly. Moods can swing violently from agitation to childlike silliness to seemingly ‘normal’ all in a short space of time.
Accompanying erratic decision making can also be erratic movement. Schizophrenic people are often described as being ‘jumpy’ or of making the same body movement over and over again. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, a schizophrenia patient can also fall into a state of catatonia in which they do not move at all.
Lack Of Emotional Communication
There is a distinct absence of ‘normal’ communicative function in people with schizophrenia. For example, they will often fail to exhibit emotional expression, leading to traits like a flat voice, blank facial expressions and not making eye contact with other people. Some sufferers will also struggle with a serious lack of motivation, leading to loss of interest in activities like cooking and general self-care.
Schizophrenia has to be diagnosed by a medical profession. A treatment plan can then be formulated which will greatly change the patient’s quality of life although it usually means a heavy reliance on prescribed medications.