What Is Schizophrenia?
At this time, the cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Scientists believe both genetics and environmental factors play a role in its development.
Family studies indicate that genetic vulnerability is a risk factor for schizophrenia. A person with a parent or sibling with schizophrenia has a 10 percent risk of developing the disorder, compared to a 1 percent risk for a person with no family history of it. At the same time, among people with schizophrenia who have an identical twin and thus share the exact genetic makeup, there is only a 50 percent chance of both twins developing the disease.
Scientists conclude that non-genetic factors, such as environmental stress perhaps occurring during fetal development or at birth, may also contribute to the risk of schizophrenia.
Research suggests that schizophrenia may be a developmental disorder resulting from impaired migration of neurons in the brain during fetal development.
Advances in neuroimaging have shown that some people with this disorder have abnormalities in their brain structure, including enlarged ventricles (the fluid-filled cavities deep within the brain).
Schizophrenia can appear in children, though this is rare. Neuroimaging research of childhood-onset schizophrenia has shown evidence of progressive abnormal brain development.
While these findings provide clues about the brain regions involved in schizophrenia, they are not yet sufficiently specific to schizophrenia to be useful as a diagnostic test.
Treatment for this disease has advanced considerably in recent years. Several options have become available to:
- Improve symptoms
- Improve quality of life
- Restore productive lives.
Schizophrenia treatment involves both medications and psychosocial treatment (therapy and rehabilitation).
The newer medications (called atypical antipsychotics) are effective for the treatment of psychosis -- including hallucinations and delusions -- and may also help treat the symptoms of reduced motivation or blunted emotional expression.
Other interventions can provide additional benefits. These can include:
- Intensive case management
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches that teach coping and problem-solving skills
- Family educational interventions
- Vocational rehabilitation.
Evidence suggests that early and sustained treatment involving antipsychotic medication improves the long-term course of schizophrenia. Over time, many people with the condition learn successful ways of managing even severe symptoms.
Because schizophrenia sometimes impairs thinking and problem solving, some people may not recognize they are ill and may refuse treatment. Others may stop treatment due to:
- Side effects of medication
- Feeling their medication is no longer working
- Forgetfulness or disorganized thinking.
People with schizophrenia who stop taking their prescribed medication are at high risk for a relapse of the illness. A good doctor-patient relationship may help people with this condition continue to take medications as prescribed.