Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic mental disorder that triggers abnormal social behaviors, detaching the patient from real world scenarios. The disorder significantly transforms the way the patient thinks, feels, and acts, and the symptoms adversely affect the well-being of the patient. As of yet, no single source of this disorder has been detected and a complex, coordinated action of multiple causes is believed to be responsible for inducing the symptoms of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, there is no known cure of the disorder, and the treatments currently being offered only help dilute the symptoms of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of schizophrenia start appearing in the patient between the ages of 16 and 30, and comprises of three types of symptoms. Namely, these are either positive, negative, or cognitive. The positive symptoms are psychotic behaviors exhibited by schizophrenic patients that are not generally detected in normal individuals. These include delusions, hallucinations and thought disorders. The negative symptoms manifest as diversions from the normal behaviors of the patient. The patient feels less pleasure in everyday life and an overall reduction in emotional expressions. The patient also tends to speak less and finds difficulty in initiating and sustaining activities. Cognitive impairment can range from subtle to severe symptoms, ranging from poor ability to comprehend information and take decisions to inability to focus attention and retain newly received information in mind.
How Common Is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is believed to affect between 0.3% and 0.7% of people during their lifetime, and is more common in men than in women. The diseases affects people of all societies, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race, religion, or culture. Nonetheless, regional trends do exist. According to the World Health Organization, in terms of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALY) related to schizophrenia, residents of Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Singapore, Tuvalu, Laos, and Uzbekistan were the most likely to be adversely affected by schizophrenia. Meanwhile, residents of developed countries in Europe and North America, as well as Australia, were least likely to be affected. In 2013, there were around 23.6 million cases of schizophrenia globally.
Causes: Nature vs. Nurture
A complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors act together to trigger the symptoms of schizophrenia. Though the disease has been found to run in some families, not all cases of schizophrenia are familial in nature. Sporadic cases also arise where an individual with no known familial history of the disease exhibit symptoms of schizophrenia. Until now, no single gene with a strong connection to the schizophrenic condition has been detected. However, a number of genes have been identified, mutations in which might act together to trigger the schizophrenic symptoms. Environmental factors like exposure to specific viruses, drug abuse, malnutrition before birth, birth defects and psycho-social effects might also predispose an individual to develop the mental disorder. Together, the genetic and environmental factors might influence physiological changes in the brain resulting in an imbalance of neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate in the brain, producing the disease symptoms. Faulty brain development during the fetal developmental process and brain changes during adolescence might also trigger the disease.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Since the actual cause of schizophrenia is, as of yet, unknown, treatment of the disease involves methods and ways to arrest or subdue its symptoms. Anti-psychotic drugs administered in conjunction with psychotherapy and supportive therapy help in reducing the symptoms of the disease. Hormonal therapy, such as administration of estradiol to postmenopausal and premenopausal women with schizophrenia have exhibited reduced psychotic symptoms. Psycho-social treatments also help the patients socialize better and pursue their life’s goals and attend school or work. Coordinated specialty care (CSC) refers to the integration of medical therapy, psycho-social therapy, family involvement and education and employment support services to help the schizophrenic patient to recover from the disease state and lead an improved life.
The schizophrenic patient might suffer from a number of social and economic problems like long-term unemployment, poverty and homelessness if they are not provided sufficient care. Though 20% of people affected by this disorder recover completely, some are induced to commit suicides and the average life expectancy is reduced in such people by 10 to 25 years. Often due to media hype, society often perceives schizophrenic patients as violent individuals, lowering the social acceptability of such patients, further worsening the mental state of these people.
Currently, research is focused both on understanding the cause of schizophrenia and development of new treatment strategies and drugs to improve the condition of schizophrenic patients. Investigations are on their way to introduce minocycline, a broad-spectrum tetracycline antibiotic, as a treatment for the disease. Changing the environment inhabited by the schizophrenic patient by a process known as nidotherapy to improve the patient’s mental state, is also being inspected. Trials are also being made to treat the negative side effects of schizophrenia.