Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that has affected people throughout history. Psychotic symptoms, negative symptoms, impairments in social and/or role functioning, and cognitive deficits characterize schizophrenia.
Researchers have come to the conclusion that schizophrenia is caused by several different factors. The first is genes and environment. Scientists have known for many years that schizophrenia runs in families. The illness occurs in 1 percent of the general population, but occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder (parent, brother, or sister). People who have second-degree relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) with the disorder also develop schizophrenia more often than the general population. The risk is highest for an identical twin of a person with schizophrenia. Their percentages rise anywhere from 40 to 65 percent. We inherit genes from both parents. Scientists believe several genes are associated with an increased risk of this disorder, but that no gene causes the disease in itself. Recent studies suggest that schizophrenia may result in part when a certain gene that is key to making important brain chemicals malfunctions. This problem may affect the part of the brain involved in developing higher functioning skills. Research on this gene is ongoing, making it not yet possible to use the genetic information to predict who will develop this disorder. Despite this, tests that scan a person’s genes can be bought without a prescription or health professional’s advice. Ads for the test suggest that with a saliva sample, a company can determine if a client is at risk for developing specific diseases, including schizophrenia. Scientists do not yet know all gene variations that contribute to this disorder. These “genome scans” are unlikely to provide a complete picture of a person’s risk for developing such a mental disorder. Another factor that scientists consider when trying to better understand this disorder is different brain chemistry and structure. Scientists believe that an imbalance in the complex, interrelated chemical reactions of the brain involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, and possibly others, plays a role in schizophrenia. In small ways, the brains of those people who do have this disorder differ slightly in appearance from those of healthy people. Studies of the brain tissue after death also revealed differences in the brains of people with schizophrenia.
Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. Positive symptoms are psychotic behaviors not seen in “healthy” people. People with positive symptoms often lose touch with reality. These symptoms can be severe or hardly noticeable, they come and go. Positive symptoms include hallucinations, things that a person sees, smells, hears, or feels, that no one else can. Voices are the most common type of hallucination within this disorder. Delusions are also positive symptoms of schizophrenia, they are false beliefs that are not part of the person’s culture and do not change. The person believes delusions even after other individuals prove that the beliefs are neither true nor logical. Negative symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. An example of negative symptoms is the flat effect. The flat effect is when a person’s face does not move, he or she talks in a dull or monotonous voice. Other negative symptoms include but are not limited too lack of pleasure in everyday life, lack of ability to begin and sustain planned activities, and speaking little, even when forced to interact. Cognitive symptoms are subtle, they may be difficult to recognize as a part of the disorder. Cognitive symptoms include: trouble focusing or paying attention, problems with “working memory,” and poor ability to understand