Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder affecting the brain. The disorder is often misunderstood or misdiagnosed, which results in unnecessary suffering. Schizophrenia does not discriminate based on age, race, or gender. Men and women are stricken with the disease in almost equal amounts.
However, the disease usually appears in men during their teens and early twenties. Women normally start to show symptoms in their thirties. It is estimated that more than 1 million Americans suffer from the disease, and that number increases with the inclusion of non-Americans.
Schizophrenia can be terrifying for the afflicted and those around them. The disease first manifests itself in confusing or surprising changes in behavior. Schizophrenia can cause a distorted perception of reality, hallucinations, illusions, and delusions. Schizophrenia can also cause disordered thinking and lack of emotional expression. However, it’s important to note that sometimes the person suffers in silence and is able to keep the symptoms hidden.
Schizophrenia is a brain disease, but its cause is unknown. Researchers speculate that heredity, stress, and even physical injury can play a part. There is some evidence that a chemical imbalance in the brain may be the culprit. The chemical imbalance angle is being explored, but the main area of focus for researchers is genetics. More research is being done in the area of molecular genetics, brain structure, and brain function.
Scientists are currently pinpointing genetic factors. It’s been found that schizophrenia runs in families. People that have a case of schizophrenia in their family are more likely to be stricken than those without an afflicted family member. A child with a parent afflicted with schizophrenia has a 10 percent chance of developing the disease. In contrast, a child with non-schizophrenic parents only has a 1 percent chance of developing the disease.
One setback to finding the cause of the disease is that the abnormalities are not the same in every case. It’s been found that a large number of schizophrenia patients display enlargement of the fluid-filled cavities in the interior of the brain, decreased size of some brain regions, and decreased metabolic activity. However, a portion of schizophrenia patients doesn’t display any of these symptoms.
Also, some people display these symptoms and show no signs of schizophrenia. Until more is known about the cause of the illness, doctors have developed an array of treatments.
Antipsychotic medications are widely used to treat the disease. These medications reduce the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia. Patients can usually function normally after taking the medication on a steady basis. The medications help lessen the symptoms, but don’t cure them. There is also a chance that the medications will cause negative side effects.
Antipsychotic medications may not help symptoms such as reduced emotional expression or lack of motivation. In fact, some antipsychotic medications can cause these symptoms to worsen. Doctors often prescribe antidepressant medications to combat this side effect.
Finding the right combination of medications can be a long and frustrating process. The patient must take the medications on a regular basis or risk the symptoms returning. Friends and family are encouraged to monitor and support the continued use of the medication.