By: Abe Jacobs

Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder. It is a disease that makes it difficult
for a person to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to
think logically, to have normal emotional responses to other, and to behave
normally in social situations. People with schizophrenia may also have
difficulty in remembering, talking, and behaving appropriately. Schizophrenia
is one of the most common mental illnesses. About 1% of the world
population has schizophrenia. In the United States, there are about 2.5 million
people with the disease. Schizophrenia is the cause of more hospitalizations
than almost any other illness. Schizophrenia most commonly begins between
the ages of 15 and 25. Although it strikes men and women equally, the
symptoms may appear later in women than in men. Very rarely, the
symptoms of schizophrenia can appear before the age of 12. Childhood
schizophrenia has a more chronic disease course and involves poor early
language development. People with schizophrenia can have a variety of
symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms come on suddenly. Usually, though,
the illness develops slowly over months or even years. At first, the symptoms
may not be noticed or may be confused with those of other conditions. For
example, people with schizophrenia may feel tense, be unable to concentrate,
or have trouble sleeping. They often become increasingly isolated and
withdrawn as their grip on reality loosens. They do not make or keep friends.
They may stop caring about the way they look. Dropping out of school or
doing badly at work are other early signs of schizophrenia. As the illness
progresses, symptoms of psychosis develop. The person starts to act
strangely and talk nonsensically. People with schizophrenia may develop
paranoid delusions. Examples of this would be that they might see, feel, smell,
or hear things that are not really there. They may have physical symptoms,
like frowning or unusual movements, and may stand or sit in strange positions.
Some people become almost motionless. Others move around constantly.
The severity of symptoms will vary from one person to another. The
symptoms also tend to worsen and improve. When the symptoms are
improved, the person may appear to behave relatively normally, but usually
there will be repeated episodes of the illness that will cause symptoms to
reappear. Schizophrenia is a complex and puzzling illness. Even the experts
are not sure exactly what causes it. Some doctors think that the brain may not
be able to process information correctly. People without schizophrenia
usually can filter out unneeded information: for example, the sound of a train
whistle in the background or a dog barking next door. People with
schizophrenia, however, cannot always filter out this extra information. One
possible cause of schizophrenia may be heredity, or genetics. Experts think
that some people inherit a tendency to schizophrenia. In fact, the disorder
tends to “run” in families, but only among blood relatives. People who have
family members with schizophrenia may be more likely to get the disease
themselves. If both biologic parents have schizophrenia, there is nearly a 40%
chance that their child will get it, too. This happens even if the child is
adopted and raised by mentally healthy adults. In people who have an
identical twin with schizophrenia, the chance of schizophrenia developing is
almost 50%. In contrast, children whose biological parents are mentally
healthy – even if their adoptive parents have schizophrenia – have about a
1% chance of getting the disease. That is about the same risk as for the
general population of the United States. Some researchers believe that events
in a person’s environment trigger schizophrenia. Some studies have shown
that influenza infection or improper nutrition during pregnancy and
complications during birth may increase the risk that the baby will develop
schizophrenia later in life. Many believe that schizophrenia is likely caused by
a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. Certain people
are born with a tendency to develop the disease. But the disease only
appears if these people are exposed to unusual stresses or traumas.
Schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotic medication. Some people
with schizophrenia also benefit from counseling and rehabilitation. They may
need to go to the hospital during an acute attack. The goal of treatment is to
reduce symptoms during acute attacks