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An Introduction to Schizophrenia & Schizoaffective Disorders

Schizophrenia Online Resources

Nature of Schizophrenia

A Brain Disease

Schizophrenia is a brain disease that interferes with normal brain functioning. It causes affected people to exhibit odd and often highly irrational or disorganized behavior. Because the brain is the organ in the body where thinking, feeling and understanding of the world takes place (where consciousness exists), a brain disease like schizophrenia alters thinking, feeling, understanding and consciousness itself in affected persons, changing their lives for the worse. Schizophrenia symptoms include difficulty thinking coherently, interacting with others normally, carrying out responsibilities and expressing emotions appropriately. Even simple everyday tasks like personal hygiene can become unmanageable and neglected. The disease can thus impact every aspect of affected people's work, family, and social life. Though not affected directly, family memb...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Schizophrenia?

  • Schizophrenia is a brain disease that interferes with normal brain functioning.
  • It alters the person's thinking, feeling, understanding and consciousness.
  • Schizophrenia symptoms include difficulty thinking coherently, interacting with others normally, carrying out responsibilities and expressing emotions appropriately.
  • A defining feature of schizophrenia or paranoid schizophrenia is psychosis, which occurs when a person loses the ability to tell the difference between real and 'imagined' experiences, and therefore loses touch with reality.
  • People with schizophrenia commonly experience hallucinations and delusions. A hallucination is an unreal sensation that only the person perceives, such as voices speaking to them that only they can hear.
  • A delusion is a fixed, mistaken idea that is often outlandish and illogical about the person and their surroundings.
  • While there is no known cure for Schizophrenia, there are effective treatments that can reduce symptoms, decrease the likelihood that new episodes of psychosis will occur, shorten the duration of psychotic episodes, and in general, offer the majority of people the possibility of living more productive and satisfying lives.

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What are common misconceptions about Schizophrenia?

  • Schizophrenia is not caused by poor parenting or by brain damage.
  • It is not a form of mental retardation, dementia, delirium, or intoxication.
  • It is not a form of multiple personality disorder, and it has little to do with aggressive tendencies.
  • The following statements are all incorrect about schizophrenia:
    • People never recover from schizophrenia.
    • Schizophrenia is contagious.
    • Most people with schizophrenia need to be institutionalized.
    • People with schizophrenia are not able to make decisions about their own treatment.
    • People with schizophrenia are likely to be violent.
    • Most people with schizophrenia can't work.
    • Jail is an appropriate place for people with schizophrenia.

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How common is Schizophrenia?

  • Worldwide about 1% of the population is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and approximately 1.2% of Americans, or roughly 3.2 million people, have the disorder.
  • About 1.5 million people will be diagnosed with schizophrenia each year.
  • Schizophrenia can affect people throughout the lifespan although it is most likely to present in early adulthood.
  • It is relatively rare for children and older adults to develop schizophrenia, but it can happen.
  • More commonly, new cases of schizophrenia increase in the teen years, reaching a peak of vulnerability between the ages of 16 and 25 years.
  • Men reach a single peak of vulnerability between the ages of 18 and 25 years, whereas a female's vulnerability peaks twice; first between 25 and 30 years, and then again around 40 years of age.

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What are the symptoms of Schizophrenia?

  • Schizophrenia is characterized by two types of symptoms called "positive" and "negative."
  • Positive symptoms are ones which are in excess of normal behavior and fall into categories of "psychotic", which include hallucinations and delusions, and "disorganized," which include disorganized speech and behavior.
  • Negative symptoms involve a deficit of behavior compared to normal functioning and may include limited emotional expression, limited thought and speech, and a lack of motivation.
  • Symptoms tend to change over time.
  • A person may show some symptoms, but not enough of them to meet the formal diagnosis of schizophrenia for a long period of time.
  • When enough symptoms are present and persist for one month with some symptoms persisting for up to six months, a diagnosis of schizophrenia can be made.

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What is the cause of Schizophrenia?

  • Data from scientific research proves that schizophrenia is clearly a biological disease of the brain, just like Alzheimer's Disease and Bipolar Disorder.
  • Schizophrenia is known to be partially caused by genetics and to be inherited.
  • MRIs and CT scans have documented structural differences between schizophrenic and normal brains.
  • Individuals with schizophrenia have up to 25% less volume of gray matter in their brains, especially in the temporal and frontal lobes, which are known to be important for coordination of thinking and judgment.
  • Schizophrenic brains also show neurochemical differences around serotonin, glutamate and dopamine when compared with normal brains.
  • About one-third of those with schizophrenia also show abnormal electrical brain impulses which suggests irregularities in the way schizophrenic brains are wired.

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What is the Schizophreniform Spectrum?

  • Schizophrenia is diagnosed as an individual condition characterized by a set of positive and/or negative symptoms lasting for at least six months and including at least one month of active-phase severe symptoms.
  • However, the disorder is believed to exist as a part of a spectrum of related conditions that share symptoms in common, and which may share certain underlying causes as well.
  • When viewed as a continuum, schizophrenia can be seen to range between "normal" at one end (with no schizophrenia present at all), and severe schizophrenia at the other, with most individual cases falling somewhere in the middle.
  • Several personality disorder diagnoses, including Schizoid Personality Disorder, and Schizotypal Personality Disorder, appear to be best thought of as extremely mild schizophreniform problems that sit on the continuum close to the 'normal' side of the spectrum.
  • Delusional disorder and schizophreniform disorder occupy a middle position.
  • Then schizophrenia itself and a related condition, schizoaffective disorder, occupy the extreme and severe end of the spectrum.

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What are treatments for Schizophrenia?

  • Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, it is successfully treatable with a combination of antipsychotic medications and supportive counseling.
  • Medication is the more important means of therapy as it is the only therapy that can effectively reduce acute symptoms.
  • Medications can make symptoms milder, shorten the course of an episode, and increase the time between psychotic episodes.
  • Although antipsychotic medications are effective in treating schizophrenia, not all medications are equal, and there is no single best treatment protocol as different patients respond best to different types and dosages of medicine.
  • The frequency and duration of hospital stays for schizophrenia patients has been substantially reduced due to the widespread use of medications.
  • Inpatient hospitalization is generally only needed for short periods of time to get new patients started on medications, to evaluate or change current patients' existing medications, or to re-introduce medications to patients who have stopped taking them.
  • Most ongoing care takes place in outpatient settings, often at community mental health centers, and includes supportive psychotherapy to monitor patients' health and symptoms, encourage them to keep them on track with appointments, and to help them to socialize and maintain relationships with other people.
  • Social workers and case managers may also be needed to help patients find and maintain housing options because in the midst of a psychotic episode, the person becomes disoriented, and is unable to care for themselves or carry out any sort of responsible activity such as working or paying rent, which can lead to homelessness.

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News Articles

  • Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Share Genetic Roots

    A trio of genome-wide studies collectively the largest to date has pinpointed a vast array of genetic variation that cumulatively may account for at least one third of the genetic risk for schizophrenia. One of the studies traced schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, in part, to the same chromosomal neighborhoods. More...


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