Everything You Need to Know About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that plagues more than 20 million people worldwide.1 Despite the seriousness of this disorder, getting the proper treatment can enable sufferers to live a functional life.

Here are some important facts you need to know about schizophrenia.

Causes

Although there’s been extensive research on schizophrenia, scientists have yet to pinpoint a clear cause. However, the use of drugs and alcohol may put you more at risk of developing the disorder. Even marijuana smoking has been linked to schizophrenia.2 Your family history may also play a role.

Signs and Symptoms

Delusions and Hallucinations

When dealing with schizophrenia, it’s not uncommon for a person to experience delusions on a regular basis. While some people start to hear voices in their head, others begin to feel like they’re constantly being watched by someone. Distinguishing reality from fantasy becomes a big problem.

Trying to tell the individual that their delusions aren’t real will prove to be a difficult task. As time goes on, the person may start to become completely detached from the world. Seeing images that aren’t really there may occur as well.

Erratic Behavior

At some point, this psychological disorder will likely cause the person to act erratically. For example, they may suddenly start to laugh for no apparent reason or talk to themselves. Some sufferers have even been seen running naked through the streets.

Although the person may appear somewhat normal at times, they will gradually start to display more signs of unpredictable behavior.

Disorganized Thoughts

A person who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia will have a hard time keeping track of their thoughts. Focusing on one specific task may become especially difficult.

Strange Movements

Schizophrenia can cause a person to move strangely. In some instances, they will make the same movement repeatedly. On the other hand, some people will sit motionless for long periods at a time. Continual pacing could also take place.3

Diagnosis

Unfortunately, schizophrenia cannot be diagnosed with a simple blood test. In order to properly determine whether or not a person has schizophrenia, they will first need to get seen by a doctor. The physician will seek to rule out any underlying medical issues or drug use by performing physical examinations. Oftentimes, a psychiatrist will then perform personality tests. During these tests, symptoms, such as hallucinations and disorganized behavior, will be taken into account.

While sitting down with their patient, psychiatrists will ask a structured series of questions. In some instances, this session may last for two hours or more. The purpose is to gauge the extent of the individual’s illness. Of course, more one-on-one conversations will be required in the future.4

Like so many other health issues, early treatment is beneficial for schizophrenia.

Treatments

Medications

In the overwhelming majority of cases, the first course of action is to treat the schizophrenia sufferer with medication. Antipsychotic drugs are the preferred choice among most medical professionals. Antidepressants are also used to help improve mood. The goal is to limit the number of symptoms. These medications come in the form of pills, injections, and liquids.

Both first-generation and second-generation medications are available. While first-generation formulas tend to be significantly less expensive, they pose a greater risk of causing side effects. Some of the more common ones include weight gain, a decreased sex drive, and elevated cholesterol levels. There’s also a greater chance of experiencing tardive dyskinesia — a disorder that causes uncontrollable facial and body movements — with first-generation antipsychotic medications.5

Overcoming schizophrenia is a lifelong process. This means the person will probably need to take medication on a regular basis.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is another important aspect of treating schizophrenia. It involves the patient sitting down with a therapist to discuss coping strategies.

Having a strong support system can make a big difference. This is why psychotherapy group sessions are so beneficial. The objective being for the person to learn more about the actual disorder.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has become increasingly popular over the years.

When performing this type of therapy, patients are put under mild anesthesia. Small electrical shocks are then sent to the brain, which triggers a controlled seizure. It’s a great option for patients who aren’t responding to medications.

Not only do studies show that ECT quickly improves schizophrenia symptoms, but it’s also deemed to be safe.6

Vitamin Supplements

Folic acid has a big influence on brain health.

When the blood levels of the vitamin are low, there’s a greater chance for mental disturbances to occur. For this reason, schizophrenia sufferers are encouraged to take folic acid supplements. Research indicates this could help limit the number of symptoms.7

Conclusion

If you suspect a family member or friend of having schizophrenia, there are ways you can help. The first step is to educate yourself on the key symptoms.

After recognizing the signs of schizophrenia, you should encourage the person to seek treatment. Remember, even major mental disorders can be overcome with proper therapy.

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