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The Basics You Need to Know About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a very serious mental disorder. It affects the way people think, feel, and act. It can make people seem like they lost touch with reality.

Schizophrenia is a chronic condition. That means it never goes away. But, by understanding the basics about the disorder, people dealing with or helping someone else deal with the condition can make it manageable.

Schizophrenia symptoms

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, experts use three categories to define the disorder's symptoms. Most people will start to show signs sometime between the ages of 16-30.

Positive symptoms

While these symptoms are called "positive," that does not mean they are good. Instead, "positive" symptoms are behaviors healthy people don't show.  These are the symptoms that make people suffering from the disorder seem out of touch with reality. They include:

  • Hallucinations — Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or feeling things that aren't really there.
  • Delusions — Having false thoughts that are not based in reality.
  • Thought disorders — trouble organizing thoughts.
  • Movement disorders — moving body in a certain way over and over.

Negative symptoms

Negative symptoms are more properly named. These are symptoms that change people's normal way of life. Negative symptoms include:

  • A "flat affect," meaning less emotion in both facial expressions and voice.
  • Reduced happiness and pleasure in everyday life.
  • Having a hard time starting and completing activities.
  • Talking less.

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms relate to people's cognition. Cognition is another word for "thinking." These symptoms are different for each person. Some people may have much worse cognitive symptoms than others. These symptoms include:

  • Having a hard time understanding information and making decisions based on what you heard. Trouble focusing or paying attention. Many times this happens because your thoughts are "racing." Too many thoughts and not enough concentration.
  • Problems with using information that was just learned.

What causes schizophrenia?

Experts aren't quite sure why some get schizophrenia while others don't. But, they agree that some factors may make a person more likely to develop the disorder.

Risk factor 1: Genes

Schizophrenia tends to run in families. That means it can be passed down to children from their parents.

But, unlike other genetic disorders, scientists aren't yet able to test children for schizophrenia before it develops. Experts also agree that genes aren't the only factor. Some people get the disorder despite no other family members having the illness.

Risk factor 2: Environmental factors

Scientists believe some environmental factors can play a part in the developing the disorder. These factors include:

  • Exposure to viruses during pregnancy.
  • The mother not eating well before birth of the baby.
  • Problems during birth, like physical trauma.
  • Other factors like poor or no housing, poor water access or living in a house with lead poisoning.

Risk factor 3: Brain chemistry and structure

Some scientists think the way certain peoples' brains work can lead to schizophrenia. These experts believe bad chemical reactions in brains can lead to cells not working together in the right way.

Doctors say that some people's brains may not develop the right way before birth, but the difference may not show up until puberty because the brain goes through  many chemical changes.

Can schizophrenia be treated?

Doctors still aren't sure of exact causes of the disorder. That also means they can't cure the illness. Instead, psychiatrists work to lessen the symptoms.

Antipsychotics (medicines) as treatment

Only doctors can prescribe these medicines. Usually, these pill or liquid medicines are taken daily. Sometimes the treatment may need to be an injection (shot). Your psychiatrist will work with patients to decide what is best.
These medicines often have side effects. But by telling your doctor about the symptoms, he may help to reduce them by changing the dose or time. If the side-effects stop you from taking the medicine, tell your doctor right away.


After finding the right medicine, many doctors will recommend therapy. People who use counseling go through training to learn how to cope with this disorder. This can include training for everyday life and job training. Research shows people who use this treatment along with medicine are less likely to need hospital care.

Coordinated Care

People with schizophrenia should take an active role in managing their own illness! But remember that it doesn't have to occur alone. The following approach can help a person through recovery:

  • Medication.
  • Counseling.
  • Case management.
  • Family and friends
  • Education and employment service.
  • Support groups.

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SOURCE: "Schizophrenia."