What Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disease. Approximately
1 percent of the population develops schizophrenia during their lifetime
more than 2 million Americans suffer from the illness in a given year. Although
schizophrenia affects men and women with equal frequency, the disorder often
appears earlier in men, usually in the late teens or early twenties, than in
women, who are generally affected in the twenties to early thirties. People
with schizophrenia often suffer terrifying symptoms such as hearing internal
voices not heard by others, or believing that other people are reading their
minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. These symptoms
may leave them fearful and withdrawn. Their speech and behavior can be so disorganized
that they may be incomprehensible or frightening to others. Available treatments
can relieve many symptoms, but most people with schizophrenia continue to suffer
some symptoms throughout their lives; it has been estimated that no more than
one in five individuals recovers completely.
This is a time of hope for people with schizophrenia and their families. Research
is gradually leading to new and safer medications and unraveling the complex
causes of the disease. Scientists are using many approaches from the study of
molecular genetics to the study of populations to learn about schizophrenia.
Methods of imaging the brain's structure and function hold the promise of new
insights into the disorder.
Schizophrenia is found all over the world. The severity of the symptoms and
long-lasting, chronic pattern of schizophrenia often cause a high degree of
disability. Medications and other treatments for schizophrenia, when used regularly
and as prescribed, can help reduce and control the distressing symptoms of the
illness. However, some people are not greatly helped by available treatments
or may prematurely discontinue treatment because of unpleasant side ]effects
or other reasons. Even when treatment is effective, persisting consequences
of the illness lost opportunities, stigma, residual symptoms, and medication
side effects may be very troubling.
Making A Diagnosis
It is important to rule out other illnesses, as sometimes people suffer severe
mental symptoms or even psychosis due to undetected underlying medical conditions.
For this reason, a medical history should be taken and a physical examination
and laboratory tests should be done to rule out other possiUble causes of the
symptoms before concluding that a person has schizophrenia. Often times a professional
who studied forensic psychology programs can perform these tests. In addition, since commonly
abused drugs may cause symptoms resembling schizophrenia, blood or
urine samples from the person can be tested at hospitals or physicians' offices
for the presence of these drugs.
At times, it is difficult to tell one mental disorder from another. For instance,
some people with symptoms of schizophrenia exhibit prolonged extremes of elated
or depressed mood, and it is important to determine whether such a patient has
schizophrenia or actually has a manic-depressive (or bipolar) disorder or major
depressive disorder. Persons whose symptoms cannot be clearly categorized are
sometimes diagnosed as having a "schizoaffective disorder."
Can Children Have Schizophrenia?
Children over the age of five can develop schizophrenia, but it is very rare
before adolescence. Although some people who later develop schizophrenia may
have seemed different from other children at an early age, the psychotic symptoms
of schizophrenia hallucinations and delusions are extremely uncommon
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