What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental disorder. It affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves.
It is one of many brain diseases that may include:
- loss of personality (flat affect)
- social withdrawal
- bizarre behavior.
First of all, there is, to date, no physical or laboratory test that can absolutely diagnose schizophrenia.
The doctor, a psychiatrist, will make a diagnosis based on the patient’s clinical symptoms.
Yet, physical testing can rule out other disorders and conditions which have similar symptoms. Such as seizure disorders, thyroid dysfunction, brain tumor, drug use, and metabolic disorders.
The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three categories: positive, negative, and cognitive.
“Positive” symptoms are psychotic behaviors not generally seen in healthy people. People with positive symptoms may “lose touch” with some aspects of reality. Symptoms include:
- Thought disorders (unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking)
- Movement disorders (agitated body movements)
“Negative” symptoms are associated with disruptions to normal emotions and behaviors. Symptoms include:
- “Flat affect” (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone)
- Reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life
- Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities
- Reduced speaking
For some patients, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are subtle. For others, they are more severe. Patients may notice changes in their memory or other aspects of thinking. Symptoms include:
- Poor “executive functioning” (the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions)
- Trouble focusing or paying attention
- Problems with “working memory” (the ability to use information immediately after learning it)
Recently therapists have adapted cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques previously used mainly in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders for use with individuals with more severe mental disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders. CBT focuses on the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems and changing unhelpful patterns in cognitions (e.g., thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), behaviors, and emotional regulation. You can read more on Wikipedia.
Although medication reduces psychotic symptoms, it is much less helpful for treating symptoms of schizophrenia such as social withdrawal, lack of motivation, and lack of emotional expressiveness.
The new generation of antipsychotic medications helps people with schizophrenia to live fulfilling lives.
They help to reduce the biochemical imbalances that cause schizophrenia. It can also decrease the likelihood of relapse.
As with all medications, care should be taken. Antipsychotic medications should be taken only under the supervision of a mental health professional.
There are two major types of antipsychotic medication:
- Conventional antipsychotics effectively control the “positive”symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and confusion of schizophrenia.
- New generation, or atypical, antipsychotics treat both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Often with the benefit of fewer side effects.
Side effects are common with antipsychotic drugs.
They range from mild side effects. Side effects can be dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, drowsiness, and dizziness. These side effects usually disappear after a few weeks. More serious side effects include trouble with muscle control, pacing, tremors and facial ticks. Also, the newer generation of drugs has fewer side effects.
It is important to talk with your mental health professional before making any changes in medication. Many side effects can be controlled.
For more info on the subject, read our post 10 facts about schizophrenia.