The first signs of schizophrenia often appear as confusing, or even shocking,
changes in behavior. Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be especially
difficult for family members who remember how involved or vivacious a person
was before they became ill. The sudden onset of severe psychotic symptoms is
referred to as an "acute" phase of schizophrenia. "Psychosis,"
a common condition in schizophrenia, is a state of mental impairment marked
by hallucinations, which are disturbances of sensory perception, and/or delusions,
which are false yet strongly held personal beliefs that result from an inability
to separate real from unreal experiences. Less obvious symptoms, such as social
isolation or withdrawal, or unusual speech, thinking, or behavior, may precede,
be seen along with, or follow the psychotic symptoms.
Some people have only one such psychotic episode; others have many episodes
during a lifetime, but lead relatively normal lives during the interim periods.
However, the individual with "chronic" schizophrenia, or a continuous
or recurring pattern of illness, often does not fully recover normal functioning
and typically requires long-term treatment, generally including medication,
to control the symptoms.
Normal Versus Abnormal
At times, normal individuals may feel, think, or act in ways that resemble
schizophrenia. Normal people may sometimes be unable to "think straight."
They may become extremely anxious, for example, when speaking in front of groups
and may feel confused, be unable to pull their thoughts together, and forget
what they had intended to say. This is not schizophrenia. At the same time,
people with schizophrenia do not always act abnormally. Indeed, some people
with the illness can appear completely normal and be perfectly responsible,
even while they experience hallucinations or delusions. An individual's behavior
may change over time, becoming bizarre if medication is stopped and returning
closer to normal when receiving appropriate treatment.
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