Often times the signs of schizophrenia can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of schizophrenia.
Learn about schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a severe, disabling disease of the brain that causes individuals to view the world in unusual ways. People with schizophrenia may believe others are reading their minds, have unusual sensory experiences such as hearing things others don’t hear or seeing things others don’t see, or believe others are after them to do them harm. These experiences can be terrifying or sometimes, if the individual has had the disorder long enough, these experiences may seem normal to them. This can make treatment very hard as the world they have been living in feels more familiar while the “real world” they experience after taking medications and no longer experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia feels foreign and frightening. This can lead to an individual refusing to take their medications. Sometimes people with Schizophrenia may seem completely normal until they begin speaking. Then their unusual thoughts and speech patterns are revealed. They may speak through rhyming words, word associations or just speak in an illogical, incomprehensible manner. The families and extended networks of schizophrenics are also affected by the individual’s difficulties. Many schizophrenics find it difficult to hold jobs and need others to help them with life’s daily activities.
While these symptoms may seem scary to those who experience them or those around them, more effective medications have been developed in recent years and can help those with schizophrenia lead normal productive lives.
The prevalence rates of schizophrenia is approximately .5% across the lifespan. Schizophrenia has been reported in every country in the world though there are variations based on race/ethnicity, countries, and geographic origin for immigrants to this country.
Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia
Experts in the field, believe that schizophrenia is caused by several different factors. These include:
Genetic: It has long been known that schizophrenia runs in families. The risk is highest for identical twins of a schizophrenic who has an approximately 50% chance of also developing the disorder. Researchers recognize that no individual gene is responsible for the development of schizophrenia and that it is most likely an interaction of dozens or even hundreds of genes that alter brain development. Difficulties are believed to occur when these genes and altered brain functioning interact with a stressful environment.
Environmental: Some of the environmental factors believed to contribute to causing schizophrenia include exposure to viruses, malnutrition before birth, problems during birth, toxins such as lead, and chronic stress which can alter brain functioning when exposure to negative or traumatizing events begins at a young age. Most people believe that there are numerous other causes that have not yet been identified.
Brain Chemistry: There is some evidence that imbalances in chemicals in the brain responsible for communication may also contribute to causing schizophrenia. When the levels of these chemicals are off, it is believed that communication in the brain may go array, leading to some of the unusual symptoms observed in schizophrenia.
Brain Structure: There is also support for the hypothesis that certain structures in the brain are shaped differently than in individuals without schizophrenia. In particular, fluid filled structures at the back of the brain called ventricles are larger in individuals with schizophrenia. Additionally, it appears there is less grey matter in people with schizophrenia.
Family: Family observations have shown that families who display “high expressed emotion” creating negative parent – child interactions may also contribute to causing schizophrenia. Families with high expressed emotion show high levels of rejection, criticism, while at the same time becoming over involved in their children’s lives.
Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia
There are a number of signs and symptoms that are characteristic of schizophrenia. They include what are termed as positive and negative symptoms.
Positive symptoms include what are considered excesses in behavior. These include:
- Delusions – false beliefs
- Hallucinations – sensations in the absence of actual physical stimuli
- Disorganized Speech – such as getting off track or incoherence
- Disorganized or catatonic behavior – confusion about where the individual had intended to go or taking illogical routes
Negative symptoms include what are considered to be deficits in behavior. These include:
- Lack of emotional expression or emotional numbing
- Avolition or lack of motivation
- Lack of goal directed behavior
- Inability to experience positive emotions
Effects of schizophrenia
The effects of schizophrenia when left untreated can be devastating to the individual and their families. Some of the more serious and long lasting effects include:
- Relationship difficulties: People suffering from schizophrenia often withdraw and isolate themselves from others. In addition, those who experience a great deal of paranoia can be extremely suspicious of others leading them to avoid interactions with those they know and new individuals.
- Interference with normal daily activities: The symptoms of schizophrenia can lead to significant disturbances in normal daily functioning. This is largely due to social problems and because everyday tasks which were once routine become almost impossible for the individual to accomplish. Delusions and hallucinations can also interfere with the ability to maintain normal hygiene.
- Alcohol and drug abuse: Individuals who suffer from schizophrenia often attempt to self- medicate using drugs and alcohol. This can lead to abuse and addiction as well as make the symptoms far worse. They may also take up smoking, which can interfere with the efficacy of the medications they take.
- Increased suicide risk: Individuals with schizophrenia are at risk for attempting suicide. Any indications an individual may be considering suicide should be taken seriously. The risk of suicide is particularly high during episodes of active psychosis or when they are depressed.