Schizophrenia is a chronic psychiatric disorder. People with this disorder experience distortions of reality, often experiencing delusions or hallucinations.
Although exact estimates are difficulty to obtain, it’s estimated to affect about 1 percent of the population.
Misconceptions about this disorder are common. For example, some people think it creates a “split personality.” In fact, schizophrenia and split personality — properly termed dissociative identity disorder — are two different disorders.
Schizophrenia can occur in men and women of all ages. Men often develop symptoms in their late teens or early 20s. Women tend to show signs in their late 20s and early 30s. Here’s what you need to know.
Symptoms of schizophrenia may include the following:
Symptoms of this disorder commonly show up in the teenage years and early 20s. At these ages, the earliest signs may get overlooked because of typical adolescent behaviors.
Early symptoms include:
- isolating oneself from friends and family
- changing friends or social groups
- a change in focus and concentration
- sleep problems
- irritability and agitation
- difficulties with schoolwork, or poor academic performance
“Positive” symptoms of schizophrenia are behaviors that aren’t typical in otherwise healthy individuals. These behaviors include:
- Hallucinations. Hallucinations are experiences that appear real but are created by your mind. They include seeing things, hearing voices, or smelling things others around you don’t experience.
- Delusions. A delusion occurs when you believe something despite evidence or facts to the contrary.
- Thought disorders. These are unusual ways of thinking or processing information.
- Movement disorders. These include agitated body movements or strange postures.
Negative symptoms of schizophrenia interrupt a person’s typical emotions, behaviors, and abilities. These symptoms include:
- disorganized thinking or speech, where the person changes topics rapidly when speaking or uses made-up words or phrases
- trouble controlling impulses
- odd emotional responses to situations
- a lack of emotion or expressions
- loss of interest or excitement for life
- social isolation
- trouble experiencing pleasure
- difficulty beginning or following through with plans
- difficulty completing normal everyday activities
Cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are sometimes subtle and may be difficult to detect. However, the disorder can affect memory and thinking.
These symptoms include:
- disorganized thinking, such as trouble focusing or paying attention
- poor “executive functioning,” or understanding information and using it to make decisions
- problems learning information and using it
- lack of insight or being unaware of their symptoms
Symptoms of schizophrenia can be difficult to detect. Learn more about all the possible signs of the disorder that may make recognizing them easier.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. Medical researchers believe several factors can contribute, including:
Recent studies have suggested that imaging tests completed on people with schizophrenia may show abnormalities in certain brain structures. Ongoing research in this area continues. Chemical abnormalities in the brain are believed to be responsible for many of the symptoms seen in schizophrenia.
Researchers also believe low levels of certain brain chemicals that affect emotions and behavior may contribute to this psychiatric disorder.
Genetics may also play a role. People with a family history of schizophrenia have a higher risk of developing this disorder.
Other risk factors for schizophrenia may include:
- exposure to toxins or a virus before birth or during infancy
- having an inflammatory or an autoimmune disease
- using mind-altering drugs
- high stress levels
Schizophrenia was once divided into five subtypes. In 2013, the subtypes were eliminated. Today, schizophrenia is one diagnosis.
The names of the individual types help doctors and healthcare providers plan treatments. However, they no longer are used as a clinical diagnosis.
These types included:
- Paranoid. In 2013, doctors decided that paranoia is a “positive” symptom of the disorder, not a separate type.
- Hebephrenic or disorganized. This type was diagnosed in people who didn’t experience hallucinations or delusions but did have disorganized speech or behaviors.
- Undifferentiated. Doctors diagnosed people with this subtype who showed more than one type of predominant symptom.
- Residual. If someone was diagnosed with schizophrenia early in their life but didn’t show symptoms later, this subtype might have been used for them.
- Catatonic. As the name suggests, this subtype was diagnosed in people who showed signs of mutism or who developed a stupor-like affect.
Though the subtypes aren’t used to diagnose schizophrenia any longer, you can read more about each one and the symptoms that classified them.
There isn’t a single test to diagnose schizophrenia. A complete psychiatric exam can help your doctor make a diagnosis. You’ll need to see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional.
At your appointment, expect to answer questions about:
- your medical history
- your mental health
- your family medical history
Your doctor may conduct the following:
Sometimes, there can be other reasons for your symptoms, even though they may be similar to those of schizophrenia. These reasons may include:
- substance use
- certain medications
- other mental illnesses
Your doctor may…