What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder. It often runs in families and can cause troubling symptoms. These may include hearing voices, and having trouble thinking clearly and relating to others. It often starts suddenly in early adulthood. There is no cure for this illness, but it can be managed with medicine and supportive therapy.

What causes schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is caused by a chemical imbalance and other changes in the brain. It tends to run in families, but the environment may also play a role.

While it affects men and women the same, symptoms tend to start earlier in men than in women. It's rare in childhood.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Each person may feel symptoms differently. These are the most common symptoms:

  • False beliefs not based on reality (delusions)

  • Seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that are not real (hallucination)

  • Disorganized speech and behavior

  • Lack of emotion

  • Feeling like someone or something is out to get them (paranoia)

  • Withdrawal from others

  • Inflated self worth

These symptoms can make it very hard to function in the world and take care of yourself. People with this illness are usually not violent.

The symptoms of schizophrenia may look like other problems or mental health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

To diagnose this disease, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and symptoms. You may also have a physical exam. You may also have lab tests to rule out other conditions.

Mental health care professionals diagnose and treat this illness. They often interview family members. This helps the healthcare team get a complete picture of the symptoms.

How is schizophrenia treated?

Managing schizophrenia is a lifelong process. It can't be cured. But symptoms can often be managed with medicine and therapy. Often, more than 1 method is needed. Types of treatment that may be helpful include:

  • Antipsychotic medicines. These are the main medicines used to reduce the most troubling symptoms such as delusions and paranoia.

  • Other medicines. These may include antidepressants or other mood stabilizers.

  • Therapy. Individual and family therapy (including cognitive and behavioral therapy).

  • Training. These may include learning social skills, job skills, or structured activity.

  • Self-help and support groups.

Early treatment and supportive services helps affected people live productive lives. It's very important to take medicines exactly as prescribed and to keep taking them even if you feel better. Many people may still have some symptoms, even with treatment. At times, symptoms may get worse and treatment will need to be adjusted.

Always see your healthcare provider for more information.

Living with schizophrenia

When you have schizophrenia, it is very important to take care of yourself and make good choices.

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Using alcohol or drugs can make treating this illness more difficult.

  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can trigger a worsening of symptoms.

  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly. These can help reduce symptoms, help you sleep well, and keep stress at bay.

  • Manage stress. Stress can worsen symptoms. Learn ways to keep it under control.

  • Seek help right away. Call your healthcare provider if you notice a change or increase in symptoms. Doing so can help avoid a relapse.

Research Shows Cellular Clean-up Crews

A close up of neurons.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center sampled the “smell” neurons pictured here, from individuals with and without schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Through examining these cells, neuropsychiatrist Koko Ishizuka, in collaboration with Kyoto University, found a protein that is usually cleared out by the cellular waste management. Her work suggests that the link between these brain disorders and the cellular clean-up system deserves a closer look.

Key points

  • Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder. It often runs in families and can cause troubling symptoms.

  • It's caused by a chemical imbalance and other changes in the brain.

  • Symptoms include hearing voices, feeling that people are out to get you, and having false beliefs that are not based in reality.

  • These symptoms can make it very hard to function in the world and take care of yourself.

  • Treatment includes antipsychotic medicines, support services, and a healthy lifestyle.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

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