Schizophrenia

  • Basics

    Schizophrenia is a chronic and debilitating mental illness that affects up to 1% of the general population. Schizophrenia is a severe and disabling brain disorder that usually begins in late adolescence or early adulthood, and often lasts in one form or another throughout life. The symptoms of schizophrenia are diverse, and affect many different aspects of brain functioning. You may experience difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy (psychosis), find your mental quickness and emotions to be dulled, and may have difficulty communicating. There are five subtypes of schizophrenia: paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, residual, or undifferentiated. The symptoms you have will depend on your subtype of schizophrenia.

  • Causes

    The exact causes for schizophrenia are not yet known. Both genetic and non-genetic (environmental) factors are thought to be involved. Having one biological parent with schizophrenia increases your risk of having the disease yourself from 1% to about 10%. Having to two biological parents with schizophrenia increases your risk to almost 50%. Interestingly, this remains true even if you are adopted at birth and raised by parents who are not mentally ill, suggesting that genetic factors play a more important role than environment. Multiple genes are likely to be involved in causing the disease.

    Environmental factors that have been implicated in the development of schizophrenia include gestational and birth complications such as incompatible mother/fetus red blood cell types (Rh factor incompatibility), prenatal exposure to influenza during the second trimester, and prenatal malnutrition.

    Studies have revealed that there are structural and functional differences in the brains of people with schizophrenia. It is still unclear whether such abnormalities are the cause or result of the disease Figure 01. The abnormalities of schizophrenia affect different parts of the brain, including structures that affect the emotions (prefrontal cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and related limbic structures). Damage to these areas may result from an insufficient oxygen supply (hypoxia) during critical stages of brain development. Biochemical abnormalities are also thought to play a role in schizophrenia.

    Click to enlarge: Areas of abnormalities found to be more common in the brains of people with schizophrenia.

    Figure 01. Areas of abnormalities found to be more common in the brains of people with schizophrenia.

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