What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a severe and complex psychiatric disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 16 and 30, after the first episode of psychosis. But it often begins in the late teens to mid- 20s.
People with schizophrenia can lose touch with reality. This is called psychosis and can include delusions and hallucinations which can be very distressful for them and their families and friends. Early intervention can possibly reduce
Symptoms including distortions in perception, thought, emotion, and behavior, can profoundly disrupt an individual’s daily life, making it difficult to engage at school and work, and in personal relationships. Seeking help and starting medication as early as possible are important to recovery of function.
Note: People with schizophrenia are not violent. However, they are more likely to become targets of violence. The risk of self-harm is greatest when the condition is untreated.
Psychotic symptoms: This includes changes in the way a person thinks, acts and experiences the world.
- Hallucinations: When a person sees, hears, smells, tastes for feels things that are not actually present. Hearing voices is a common symptom.
- Delusions: Strongly held beliefs that are not true but persist despite evidence to the contrary, such as believing one possesses supernatural powers, or that the radio or TV is sending them special messages, or that they are in danger.
- Thought disorder: Illogical and unusual thinking, difficult organizing thoughts or speech. An affected may have erratic speech and jump from topic to topic or make up words.
- Movement disorder: Agitated body movements or catatonia, a state of immobility and stupor.
Negative symptoms: These include disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors which may appear as:
- Trouble planning or sticking with an activity
- Trouble anticipating and feeling pleasure in life (Anhedonia)
- Avoiding social interactions or awkward interactions
- Low energy and spending a lot of time in passive activities
- Reduced expression of emotions
- Speech difficulties and interactions
Cognitive symptoms: This includes problems with attention, concentration and memory. It can make it difficult to follow a conversation, learn new things or remember appointments.
- Difficulty processing information to make decisions
- Trouble using information right after learning it
- Trouble focusing and paying attention
Factors that increase the risk of schizophrenia include:
- Genetic predisposition: Schizophrenia has a hereditary component, with the risk increasing if a close family member has the disorder. However, not everyone with a family history of schizophrenia will develop the condition.
- Neurochemical imbalance: Dopamine and glutamate, neurotransmitters in the brain, are implicated in schizophrenia. Imbalances in these chemicals and their pathways might contribute to the symptoms.
- Brain abnormalities: Some studies indicate structural differences in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia, like enlarged ventricles. It’s still debated how these changes relate to the disorder’s manifestation.
- Environmental factors: Research suggests that a combination of genetics and aspects of the environment and life experiences play a role. Living in poverty, stressful or dangerous surroundings, and prenatal exposure to viral infections might increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. Drug abuse during adolescence can exacerbate its onset.
- Brain structure and function: Differences in the size of certain brain areas and connections between brain areas may play a role in developing schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia’s diagnosis is primarily clinical, meaning it’s based on a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. There isn’t a laboratory test specifically for schizophrenia, but medical tests might be done to rule out other conditions that might have similar symptoms. The diagnosis is typically made by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who will evaluate:
- Presence of characteristic symptoms.
- Duration of symptoms (at least 6 months with at least 1 month of active-phase symptoms).
- Impact on daily functioning.
- Exclusion of substance-induced or medical conditions.
Management of schizophrenia is multifaceted and typically involves:
- Antipsychotic medications: These are the cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment and work by affecting dopamine and sometimes other neurotransmitter systems in the brain. This can help reduce intensity and frequency of symptoms,
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy, behavioral skill training, supportive therapy, and family therapy can be beneficial.
- Behavioral skills training: Helps individuals improve their social interactions, communication, and job-related skills.
- Hospitalization: May be required during severe episodes or if there’s a risk of harm to self or others.
- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Used rarely, for patients who do not respond to medication or have severe depression or suicidal tendencies.
At Mercie Health and Wellness in Katy, Tx, we offer a holistic understanding and approach, combining medical, psychological, and social modalities, which are vital for the management of schizophrenia. As science progresses, it is hoped that more effective and targeted interventions will emerge, enhancing the quality of life for those with this condition. You will always be treated with respect and dignity at Mercie Health. Contact us to schedule a consultation to learn more about schizophrenia, receive the correct diagnosis and all treatment options.
At a Glance
Dr. Sylvia Udokoro Nwakanma
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
- Double Board Certified in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-C)
- SAMSHA Certified Addictions Nurse Practitioner
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