Schizophrenia, from the Greek roots schizein ("to split") and phren- ("mind"), is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a mental illness characterized by impairments in the perception or expression of reality, most commonly manifesting as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions or disorganized speech and thinking in the context of significant social or occupational dysfunction. Onset of symptoms typically occurs in young adulthood.
Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling mental illness that may be caused by abnormal amounts of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters control our thought processes and emotions. Schizophrenia is a group of serious brain disorders in which reality is interpreted abnormally. Schizophrenia results in hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking and behavior. People with schizophrenia withdraw from the people and activities in the world around them, retreating into an inner world marked by psychosis.
Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in people aged 17-35 years. The illness appears earlier in men (in the late teens or early twenties) than in women (who are affected in the twenties to early thirties). Many of them are disabled. They may not be able to hold down jobs or even perform tasks as simple as conversations. Some may be so incapacitated that they are unable to do activities most people take for granted, such as showering or preparing a meal. Many are homeless. Some recover enough to live a life relatively free from assistance.
Environmental factors are merely speculative and may include complications during pregnancy and birth. For instance, some studies have shown that offspring of women whose sixth or seventh month of pregnancy occurs during a flu epidemic are at increased risk for developing schizophrenia although other studies have refuted this. During the first trimester of pregnancy, maternal starvation or viral infection may lead to increased risk for schizophrenia development in the offspring. It has even been conjectured that babies born in the winter season are at higher risk for developing this mental illness in their early adulthood.
Genetic factors appear to play a role, as people who have family members with schizophrenia may be more likely to get the disease themselves. Some researchers believe that events in a person's environment may trigger schizophrenia. For example, problems during intrauterine development (infection) and birth may increase the risk for developing schizophrenia later in life.
People with schizophrenia describe strange or unrealistic thoughts. In many instances, their speech is hard to follow due to disordered thinking. Common forms of thought disorder include circumstantiality (talking in circles around the issue), looseness of associations (moving from one topic to the next without any logical connection between them), and tangentiality (moving from one topic to another where the logical connection is visible, but not relevant to the issue at hand).
Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong brain disorder. People who have it may hear voices, see things that aren't there or believe that others are reading or controlling their minds. In men, symptoms usually start in the late teens and early 20s. They include hallucinations, or seeing things, and delusions such as hearing voices.
Schizophrenia can be treated with medication in the form of tablets or long-acting injections. Social support for the individual and support for carers is important. Counselling may be offered to the person with schizophrenia and their family. Brain scanning, especially MRI scanning, has provided a far greater understanding of the condition and led to the development of antipsychotic medication and therapies.
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