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Schizophrenia: Disease of the Brain

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Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder. Like many other illnesses, schizophrenia is believed to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. All the tools of modern science are being used to search for the causes of this disorder.

The term schizophrenia is Greek in origin, and in the Greek meant "split mind." This is not an accurate medical term. In Western culture, some people have come to believe that schizophrenia refers to a split-personality disorder. These are two very different disorders, and people with schizophrenia do not have separate personalities.

Schizophrenia is a complex and puzzling illness. Even the experts in the field are not exactly sure what causes it. Some doctors think that the brain may not be able to process information correctly.

Genetic factors appear to play a role, as people who have family members with schizophrenia may be more likely to get the disease themselves. Some researchers believe that events in a person's environment may trigger schizophrenia. For example, problems during intrauterine development (infection) and birth may increase the risk for developing schizophrenia later in life.

Psychological and social factors may also play some role in its development. However, the level of social and familial support appears to influence the course of illness and may be protective against relapse.

No single characteristic is present in all types of schizophrenia. The risk factors include a family history of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is thought to affect about 1% of the population worldwide. Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in people aged 17-35 years. The illness appears earlier in men (in the late teens or early twenties) than in women (who are affected in the twenties to early thirties). Many of them are disabled. They may not be able to hold down jobs or even perform tasks as simple as conversations. Some may be so incapacitated that they are unable to do activities most people take for granted, such as showering or preparing a meal. Many are homeless. Some recover enough to live a life relatively free from assistance.

Usually with schizophrenia, the person's inner world and behavior change notably. Changes might include the following:

 Catatonic type:

• Motor disturbances

• Stupor

• Negativism

• Rigidity

• Agitation

• Inability to take care of personal needs

• Decreased sensitivity to painful stimulus

 Paranoid type:

• Delusional thoughts of persecution or of a grandiose nature

• Anxiety

• Anger

• Violence

• Argumentativeness

 Disorganized type:

• Incoherence (not understandable)

• Regressive behavior

• Flat affect

• Delusions

• Hallucinations

• Inappropriate laughter

• Repetitive mannerisms

• Social withdrawal

 Undifferentiated type: Patient may have symptoms of more than one subtype of schizophrenia.

 Residual type: Prominent symptoms of the illness have abated, but some features - such as hallucinations and flat affect - may remain.

The diagnosis of schizophrenia is made based on a thorough psychiatric interview of the person and family members. As yet, there are no defining medical tests

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