Schizophrenia is the most common of all psychotic disorders, yet it still occurs in only in 1% of the world’s population. It usually occurs in people of age 14-45, but it can strike anybody at anytime. Schizophrenia has many symptoms, causes, and treatments. Some people recover, some do not. Schizophrenia is an unpredictable and often debilitating disorder, and a common source of study in psychology. The website www.schizophrenia.com is an excellent source for anyone diagnosed with the illness or anyone with a friend or family member suffering from the illness.
When someone cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is imaginary, they may be described as having a psychotic illness. The most common type of psychotic illness is schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness and it is different for each person, but it usually involves a dramatic disorder in thoughts and feelings and results in behavior that may seem strange to other people. Some people hear voices, others see things that are not there, or feel they are being persecuted by mysterious, unseen stalkers. Some people only experience one episode of psychosis and some recover from schizophrenia. For others, schizophrenia is a long-term illness, but a combination of medication and talking therapies can help to control it and help a victim get on with their life.
Some characteristics of schizophrenia are strange beliefs or thoughts with little no basis in reality. These are called delusions, and can be very disturbing. Examples of common delusions among schizophrenics include thinking that you have special powers or that someone on the street is trying to control your thoughts or feelings. The latter is also often redefined and called paranoid delusions. Another common symptom is hallucinations. This is the hearing, seeing, feeling or even smelling of things that are not there. A common example of this is hearing voices in one’s head. There are also changes in the thought process where victim’s thoughts are disconnected and random, inappropriate behavior, inability to feel emotion or feeling the wrong emotions at the wrong time, depression, and lack of concentration.
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Scientists do not know what causes schizophrenia but there are some known risk factors and identifying traits. Two such traits are differences in brain structure and brain function. Recently, studies have indicated that schizophrenia may also have a biological basis. The most common finding in structural imaging in schizophrenia is of enlarged lateral ventricles, the fluid filled sacs in the brain, smaller cerebral cortex and hippocampus. It is clear that schizophrenia is characterized by subtle but important changes in brain structure. However, psychotic symptoms and the cognitive problems associated with schizophrenia correspond to abnormal functioning of the brain as well. There is a great deal of interest in understanding what is happening in the brain when people are experiencing a psychotic episode. There is evidence that brain function is different when people are having an episode, compared to when their symptoms are not present. Other studies have looked at brain activity in people experiencing particular types of symptoms such as auditory hallucinations. These studies have consistently shown that people with a history of auditory hallucinations have abnormal activity of frontal and temporal lobe regions of the brain involved in speech and language. Heredity also plays a possible role in the development of schizophrenia. Research has discovered that If one identical twin has schizophrenia, their co-twin has an approximately 50% risk of developing the disorder. Similarly, having a sibling with the illness results in a 15% risk on other siblings. These figures contrast with a general prevalence rate of 1% in the general population. Therefore, even allowing for the effects of shared environment with families, it is clear that genetics play a role in schizophrenia although non-genetic factors also play an important part. Basically, there are many possible factors that could cause schizophrenia in an individual.
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Treatment for people with schizophrenia almost always involves drug therapy. It aims to stabilize psychotic symptoms and reduce their chances of further psychotic episodes. It also aims to improve their ability to resume everyday life and to live on their own with minimal assistance. The drugs used for schizophrenia are collectively called antipsychotics or neuroleptics, but they used to be called major tranquillizers. Antipsychotics are divided into groups according to their chemistry and pharmacology. The two major groups are typical and atypical antipsychotics based on their side effects. The typical antipsychotics include haloperidol, chlorpromazine, chlorpromazine and thioridazine. As stated before, the side effects of these drug treatments can be severe. Specific side effects of typical antipsychotics are severe movement disorders, called extrapyramidal side effects, such as muscle spasms and unusual body movements. These are very difficult side effects to deal with, since they are so visible and embarrassing.
Some schizophrenics turn to more drugs, such as procyclidine, to relieve the movement disorders, but these drugs also have less severe side effects. Atypical antipsychotics include clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine and quetiapine. Their side effects are milder than typical antipsychotics, but are often more expensive. Also, clozapine has the rare, but potentially lethal side effect of white blood cell disruption. These drugs are not commonly used to treat schizophrenia. Whether typical or atypical, antipsychotics have some common side effects as well. These include drowsiness, dizziness, and weight gain. Many people with schizophrenia find it helpful to talk about their feelings and experiences and to get support from others in dealing with the illness. Talking therapies such as counseling and psychotherapy are mostly used alongside drug treatment for people with schizophrenia.
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Schizophrenia is a highly stereotyped and misunderstood disease in the general public. However, it is being de-mystified by the medical community more and more each day. Already it has become highly treatable, and many victims can recover fully. Further study of treatments and causes of the disease will be necessary though before we can completely understand and treat this cruel disease.