This article serves as a quick summary of all of the important schizophrenia facts available to us at this point in time. The facts surrounding schizophrenia are many and are often intimidating. Consider this the Schiz Life Cliff Notes version!
The Facts Surrounding Schizophrenia
As always, before discussing any topic, you must be clear about what it is you are discussing, and so we begin with the definition of schizophrenia…
Schizophrenia is a chronic degenerative brain disorder characterized by deterioration in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral function.
Theories About the Cause of Schizophrenia
Although evidence suggests that schizophrenia occurs at an equal rate among different ethnicities, sexes, and geographical regions, the disorder’s exact cause is still hotly contested. While it is known that a family history of the disorder can indicate rather accurately that desendants are pre-disposed for the disorder, researchers still don’t know the biological cause of schizophrenia or why some individuals develop it while others do not.
Scientists theorize that schizophrenia is due to specific circumstances achieved by environmental and genetic factors, however it is not known how these two combine to produce the disorder. Some researchers believe that schizophrenia is due to overproduction of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the fact that antagonistic neuroleptics, which function by blocking dopamine receptors, has managed to treat positive symptoms of the disorder is argued to be proof that this theory holds some validity. It has also been observed that L-dopa, which precedes the production of dopamine and is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, causes schizophrenia-like symptoms, therefore lending further evidence to the theory that dopamine may be at least partly responsible for some symptoms of schizophrenia.
Some neurological research has also revealed that the brain structure of schizophrenic patients is abnormal compared to the brain of an individual who does not suffer from the disorder. The brain development of high risk children has been monitored to detect any abnormalities in brain structure and function and evidence was found indicating that neurological composition also plays a role in this very complex brain disorder.
Heritability of Schizophrenia
One of the most interesting characteristics about schizophrenia is its correlation to genetic makeup. Research shows again and again that the more genes an individual shares with someone diagnosed with the disorder, the higher his/her risk is of developing schizophrenia. Even the difference between the general risk and the risk resulting from having at least one family member diagnosed, is significant. Therefore, you may have guessed that the highest level of heritability of schizophrenia occurs between monozygotic twins, who share 100% of their genes. After this, fraternal twins have the highest risk, followed by individuals with a schizophrenic mother, followed by individuals with a family history of the disorder or individuals having at least one relative who exhibits schizophrenic symptoms.
Another thing to note regarding schizophrenia is that different family members with the disorder can have completely different symptoms, lending credibility to the theory that the biological cause of the disorder is capable of coding for an immense spectrum of symptoms related to various psychotic conditions. Some high risk individuals may not even develop schizophrenia at all, but may still be suceptible to other psychotic disorders.
Prevalence of Schizophrenia
Men and women are equally suceptible to schizophrenia and research has not revealed any increased risk amongst different ethnicities. The general population has about a one percent risk of developing the disorder while those with a schizophrenic relative have around a five percent risk. This risk increases with the strength of biological relation, particularly concerning the quantity of genes shared among the relatives pre-disposed for the disorder.
Since individuals with schizophrenia are likely to pass on the disorder to descendants, experts advise that these individuals be monitored for any expression of symptoms so that they can be treated early if the case calls for it.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Many people have misconceptions about what schizophrenia looks like behaviorally. Media has been notorious for depicting schizophrenia as a disorder mostly associated with active positive symptoms (delusions and hallucinations) and often characterizes schizophrenics as dangerous criminals. In reality, depending on the severity of symptoms, schizophrenics are almost always more harmful to themselves than to others.
Schizophrenia symptoms are divided into two classifications:
Positive Symptoms: Include catatonic movement, delusions, hallucinations, and magical thinking. These types of symptoms are usually treated with dopamine blocking antagonists.
Negative Symptoms: Include depression-like symptoms such as lack of motivations, social isolation, withdrawal, flat affect, and inability to express emotion; Negative symptoms are more difficult to treat as they are often misdiagnosed and treated like depression.
Treatment of Schizophrenia
Because the cause of schizophrenia is still very ambiguous, a combination of treatments have been used throughout history. In ancient times, delusions and hallucinations encouraged speculation of demonic possession and oftentimes, people suffering from the disorder would be isolated from society or ‘treated’ by clergy members in an attempt to extricate ‘demons’. After this period, other attempts, including extricating parts of the brain were used, and in the early 1900s, electroconvulsive therapy became a popular treatment for schizophrenia. Today, the preferred method of treatment is a combination of antipsychotic medication and psychosocial training. These modern treatments focus largely on familial and community support and encourage treating the patient with kindness and compassion.
Can Schizophrenia Be Cured?
Research about the cause of schizophrenia is still pending and no permanent cure can be found until the cause is understood with a significant amount of certainty. That being said, schizophrenic symptoms can be treated and if the disorder is caught in its early stages, symptoms can be controlled enough to prevent them from escalating.
Although saying that there is no cure for schizophrenia is somewhat daunting, people with schizophrenia have managed to live fulfilling lives.