Definition: What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a complex psychiatric illness that causes serious mental problems. Onset of the illness typically occurs between the ages of 15 and 25, and is different from person to person. Contrary to popular belief, a schizophrenic person does not have a dual personality. Rather, it is a loss of touch with reality.
One in every 100 people in the world have schizophrenia, half of whom are unaware that they even have the illness. The disease is twice as prevalent as Alzheimer's disease, and five times more prevalent than multiple sclerosis.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia: Hallucinations and Paranoia
The symptoms of schizophrenia vary from one patient to another. In most cases, their onset is progressive. The patient passes through acute phases during which the symptoms are displayed. They are grouped into several different families:
- Positive (or excess) symptoms: These are the most visible symptoms. They include sensory hallucinations (mostly visual or auditory), paranoia, delusions, and megalomania.
- Negative (or deficit) symptoms: These correspond to a social retreat of the patient. They include isolation, emotional impoverishment, and a loss of interest in the world around themselves.
- Dissociative symptoms: These entail a disorganization of thought and behaviour. The patient's speech will be incoherent, and express conflicting emotions.
These symptoms are not all displayed by a patient. Depending on their intensity, there are different forms of schizophrenia. The most common form is paranoid schizophrenia. Other forms include catatonic schizophrenia (composed mainly of physical symptoms) and affective schizophrenia, as well as an undifferentiated form (mixed symptoms).
Causes of Schizophrenia: Genetics and Environment
The causes of schizophrenia are still unknown. However, genetic and environmental factors are most often put forward by researchers.
The risk of contracting the disease by hereditary means depends on the degree of relatedness. As such, if the risk of developing schizophrenia is 1% in the total population, this figure increases to 13% in the case of a person whose parent is schizophrenic, 10% if it's a sibling, and 40% if both parents suffer from the illness. Identifying the genes associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia will enable researchers to better understand the disease.
The use of cannabis and other psychogenic substances are important contributing factors in the triggering of the disease. Regular use before the age of 18 doubles the risk of developing schizophrenia. Stressful situations such as social tension or a high amount of pressure can also be a trigger. In addition, for some unexplained reason, growing up in an urban setting also increases the risk of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia: Lifelong Treatment
Treatment for schizophrenia must be done continuously throughout a patient's life. A sudden stop in treatment can cause a relapse after a few days or months. Adhering to treatment is therefore one of the keys to the stabilization or even the remission of symptoms.
Treatment of schizophrenia largely based on the use of neuroleptic drugs (antipsychotics). Other psychotropic drugs such antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and tranquilizers are also used. They can significantly reduce the symptoms and improve the lives of patients, without completely curing the disease. In times of acute crisis, hospitalization may be necessary.