What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe brain disease that interferes with normal brain and mental function—it can trigger hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and significant lack of motivation. Without treatment, schizophrenia affects the ability to think clearly, manage emotions, and interact appropriately with other people. It is often disabling and can profoundly affect all areas of your life (for example, becoming unable to work or go to school). Being told that you or someone you love has schizophrenia can be frightening or even devastating. The best way to improve your quality of life with schizophrenia is to learn as much as you can about this condition and then adhere to the recommended treatment.

There are several types of schizophrenia, and the specific types are diagnosed based upon symptoms. The most common type is paranoid schizophrenia, which causes fearful thoughts and hearing threatening voices.

Schizophrenia does not involve multiple personalities and is not the same condition as dissociative identity disorder (also called multiple personality disorder or split personality).

What causes schizophrenia?

There are many theories about the cause of schizophrenia, but none have yet been proved. Schizophrenia may be a genetic disorder, since your chances of developing schizophrenia increase if you have a parent or sibling with the condition, but most people with relatives who have schizophrenia will not develop it. It may also be related to problems experienced during pregnancy (such as malnutrition, or being exposed to a viral infection) that damages the unborn child’s developing nervous system.

What are the symptoms?

Schizophrenia causes two groups of symptoms: negative symptoms and positive symptoms.

Negative symptoms generally include apathy or lack of motivation, self-neglect (such as not bathing), and reduced or inappropriate emotion (such as becoming angry with strangers). Negative symptoms usually appear first and may be confused with depression.

Positive symptoms, which generally appear later, include symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized or confusing thoughts and speech.

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually emerge in adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms can appear suddenly or may develop gradually, often causing the illness to go unrecognized until it is in an advanced stage when it is more difficult to treat.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

Schizophrenia is diagnosed primarily with a medical history and a mental health assessment. Other tests, such as blood tests or imaging tests, may be done to rule out other conditions that can mimic symptoms of schizophrenia.

How is schizophrenia treated?

There is no cure for schizophrenia, but many people can effectively manage their symptoms with medications and professional counseling.

Consistent, long-term treatment is critical to the successful management of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, people with schizophrenia often do not seek treatment or they stop treatment due to unpleasant side effects of medications or lack of support.