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Schizophrenia is a mental illness that typically causes patients to have problems with discerning real experiences from those that are not real, and this illness may cause difficulties with emotions, behavior and logical thinking. When a doctor suspects that a patient may have this condition, he usually conducts a thorough physical examination, evaluates the patient’s symptoms and medical history, and has a patient undergo a series of medical and psychological tests to aid in a schizophrenia assessment. A doctor generally tries to rule out medications, substance abuse, medical conditions and other mental illnesses as potential causes of a patient’s symptoms. In many cases, physicians use specific diagnostic criteria when preparing a schizophrenia assessment, and they pay close attention to the extent of a patient’s symptoms, the length of time they have been present and their effect on the patient’s daily life.
As a doctor conducts a schizophrenia assessment, he typically looks for at least two symptoms of the disease. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition include hallucinations, delusions and disorganized speech, as well as catatonic or disorganized patient behavior. Another important part of a schizophrenia assessment is a major impairment of a patient's ability to attend school, go to work or perform routine daily tasks. A schizophrenia assessment also considers the duration of a patient’s symptoms, and a diagnosis of this condition is usually dependent on a patient experiencing symptoms for at least six months.
Schizophrenia patients often develop a subtype of the disease, and each of the schizophrenia subtypes tend to be characterized by a group of symptoms. Catatonic schizophrenia usually includes a lack of social interaction as well as strange and meaningless gestures. Patients with paranoid schizophrenia typically develop delusions and hallucinations. Disorganized schizophrenia usually includes inappropriate expressions of emotions and disorganized thoughts. People with undifferentiated schizophrenia tend to have symptoms that belong to more than one subtype of the disease.
The causes of schizophrenia are generally not known, but it is likely a result of genetic and environmental factors. This disease may result from imbalances in brain chemicals as well as differences in the structure of the brain and central nervous system in people with this condition. Individuals with a family history of the disease and people with stressful life experiences can have an increased risk of developing this disorder. People who were exposed to toxins, viruses or malnutrition in the womb before they were born may be more likely to become schizophrenic. Individuals who take psychoactive drugs during their adolescent and young adult years may also have a greater risk of developing this mental disorder.
In most cases, the most effective schizophrenia treatments are antipsychotic drugs that generally reduce symptoms and improve the balance of chemicals in a patient’s brain. Psychosocial treatments are often used in patients whose symptoms have improved with medications. Several types of psychosocial treatments may be used, including training in social skills to improve interpersonal communication abilities and social interactions, as well as vocational rehabilitation to help patients obtain employment. Other forms of psychosocial treatment can help patients deal more effectively with stress and identify the signs of a relapse of the disease.
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