Schizophrenia is a serious and complex disorder of the brain that affects your ability to think, feel, and perceive things in a normal way. Not easily identifiable and with lack of knowledge we often keep wondering whether the behavior of our partner, friend or relative crosses the realms of normal behavior and could be termed schizophrenic.
In medical parlance, Schizophrenia is a long-term medical illness that could cause permanent mental disability if an early diagnosis is not made. People with schizophrenia tend to live in their own imaginary world and often lose connection with reality. They have troubled relationships, disordered thought processes, accompanied by delusions and hallucinations, and hence they are unable to normally perform everyday activities. All these characteristics would be the reason behind life-long sour relationships and disability if no prompt treatment is given.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown and is still under study. Many researchers, however, proposed that a combination of environmental factors, brain issues, and genetics contribute towards the onset of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is more common in late teens and young adults with a higher incidence reported in men than women. Although it is difficult to completely cure schizophrenia, various treatment regimens are available that could improve the quality of life in schizophrenic patients.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
After extensive research work, scientists finally concluded that several factors may be the reason behind the etiology of the disease.
Schizophrenia is thought to be a genetic disorder and runs in the family. Several kinds of research on the human genome showed that there is no single gene found to be the cause of schizophrenia, instead, different genes are responsible for increasing the chances of the disease. However, that doesn’t mean if a family member has schizophrenia then this disorder will definitely occur in his or her upcoming generations.
Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that carry messages either between one part of the brain to the other or from the brain to other body parts. Whenever there are irregularities or imbalances between neurotransmitters, particularly, in dopamine and serotonin, symptoms of schizophrenia arise. Some studies even claim that this disturbance is the main culprit behind the onset of the disease.
Environmental factors, together with genetics and brain chemical imbalances, doubles the risk of developing schizophrenia. Such environmental triggers may include poverty, stressful surroundings, childhood trauma, infections, and malnutrition during pregnancy. Even some mental problems i.e., depression, bipolar, psychosis, and anxiety can also cause schizophrenic symptoms.
Substance abuse will not directly cause the disease but if a person is genetically prone to the disease then substance overuse would be the prominent trigger of schizophrenia. Cannabis, cocaine, nicotine, and alcohol abuse can be a secondary causes of the disease in susceptible individuals.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Schizophrenia signs and symptoms vary in terms of types, duration, severity, and age. Usually, these symptoms worsen overtime followed by periods of remission but some specific signs always persist. The most common symptoms of schizophrenia are:
One of the early signs of schizophrenia is a hallucination and is characterized by hearing and seeing things that are not present in reality. Teens are generally more affected by hallucinations than adults. People with hallucinations are still able to live life like normal individuals.
Another most commonly occurring symptom of schizophrenia is delusion in which people have false beliefs about themselves and their surroundings. For instance, people thought that others are against them, mistreating them, or trying to harm them but in reality, nothing is even closer to these beliefs. The types of delusion greatly vary according to age, the severity of the disease, and social factors.
- Impaired cognitive skills
In schizophrenia, prominent impairment of cognitive skills is also observed. Individuals with schizophrenia will have difficulty in processing information, disoriented learning and verbal abilities, difficulty in attention-seeking tasks, loss of focus, impaired visual memory, and are unable to solve even minor problems.
- Impaired communication
Schizophrenics have a tough time conveying their messages or thoughts and also find it hard to understand others. This is because of poor cognition functioning that makes it harder for the patients to find appropriate words and express their emotions.
- Negative symptoms
Negative symptoms are defined as the inability to perform simple functions normally and are very common among schizophrenia patients. For example, lack of motivation, social withdrawal, unable to feel happiness and pleasure, no aim in life, and significantly reduced verbal interaction with others are some of the negative symptoms often observed in individuals with schizophrenia.
Depression, low mood, marijuana and other drugs abuse, difficulty in sleeping, irritability, and aggressive behaviors are some other signs and symptoms of schizophrenia.
It is not possible to prevent schizophrenia; however, several therapies can help to subside the signs and symptoms enabling the patient to live a normal life. Schizophrenia treatments are life-long that are essentially needed to prevent the remission and complications of the disease.
The antipsychotic drug is the treatment of choice for the management of schizophrenia. Their mode of action is to control the irregularities of brain chemicals and prevent psychotic symptoms. Antipsychotic medication is usually taken as an oral dose. But in some instances, injections are also used and patients found it to be better than oral drugs.
Antipsychotic drugs are highly effective but they come with many side effects, for example, weight gain, sedation, dry mouth, constipation, high risk of diabetes, etc.
Often, doctors use the antipsychotic medication in combination with psychosocial therapies for effective and fast management of the disease. Behavioral skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive enhancement therapy, individual psychotherapy, and other forms of rehabilitation are mostly used. Through these therapies, patients learn effective communication skills, control stress, better verbal and learning abilities, and finally able to differentiate between reality and imagination.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
ECT can be used for those patients who have developed treatment-resistant schizophrenia. In ECT, a controlled and small amount of current is passed through the brain that causes changes in the brain chemicals. Due to these changes, a reverse in psychotic symptoms can be achieved.
ECT is commonly used for major depressive disorder and most doctors are not in favor of using ECT for schizophrenia patients.
Living With Schizophrena
There is no cure available for schizophrenia, and many patients may suffer from premature death due to poor diagnosis and unhealthy habits. But now, the prognosis of the disease is improving. More and more treatments have been formulated with higher success rates. After extensive periods of therapy, people are now able to live their life normally and become a functional part of their communities.
The most important element in the rehabilitation of schizophrenia is the support and acceptance from their friends and families. Emotional, physical, motivational, and mental support from the surrounding people would able the sufferers to return to their normal life easily and ultimately, they will learn to adopt healthy lifestyles.