By: Abe Jacobs
Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder. It is a disease that makes it difficult
for a person to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to
think logically, to have normal emotional responses to other, and to behave
normally in social situations. People with schizophrenia may also have
difficulty in remembering, talking, and behaving appropriately. Schizophrenia
is one of the most common mental illnesses. About 1% of the world
population has schizophrenia. In the United States, there are about 2.5 million
people with the disease. Schizophrenia is the cause of more hospitalizations
than almost any other illness. Schizophrenia most commonly begins between
the ages of 15 and 25. Although it strikes men and women equally, the
symptoms may appear later in women than in men. Very rarely, the
symptoms of schizophrenia can appear before the age of 12. Childhood
schizophrenia has a more chronic disease course and involves poor early
language development. People with schizophrenia can have a variety of
symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms come on suddenly. Usually, though,
the illness develops slowly over months or even years. At first, the symptoms
may not be noticed or may be confused with those of other conditions. For
example, people with schizophrenia may feel tense, be unable to concentrate,
or have trouble sleeping. They often become increasingly isolated and
withdrawn as their grip on reality loosens. They do not make or keep friends.

They may stop caring about the way they look. Dropping out of school or
doing badly at work are other early signs of schizophrenia. As the illness
progresses, symptoms of psychosis develop. The person starts to act
strangely and talk nonsensically. People with schizophrenia may develop
paranoid delusions. Examples of this would be that they might see, feel, smell,
or hear things that are not really there. They may have physical symptoms,
like frowning or unusual movements, and may stand or sit in strange positions.

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Some people become almost motionless. Others move around constantly.

The severity of symptoms will vary from one person to another. The
symptoms also tend to worsen and improve. When the symptoms are
improved, the person may appear to behave relatively normally, but usually
there will be repeated episodes of the illness that will cause symptoms to
reappear. Schizophrenia is a complex and puzzling illness. Even the experts
are not sure exactly what causes it. Some doctors think that the brain may not
be able to process information correctly. People without schizophrenia
usually can filter out unneeded information: for example, the sound of a train
whistle in the background or a dog barking next door. People with
schizophrenia, however, cannot always filter out this extra information. One
possible cause of schizophrenia may be heredity, or genetics. Experts think
that some people inherit a tendency to schizophrenia. In fact, the disorder
tends to run in families, but only among blood relatives. People who have
family members with schizophrenia may be more likely to get the disease
themselves. If both biologic parents have schizophrenia, there is nearly a 40%
chance that their child will get it, too. This happens even if the child is
adopted and raised by mentally healthy adults. In people who have an
identical twin with schizophrenia, the chance of schizophrenia developing is
almost 50%. In contrast, children whose biological parents are mentally
healthy even if their adoptive parents have schizophrenia have about a
1% chance of getting the disease. That is about the same risk as for the
general population of the United States. Some researchers believe that events
in a persons environment trigger schizophrenia. Some studies have shown
that influenza infection or improper nutrition during pregnancy and
complications during birth may increase the risk that the baby will develop
schizophrenia later in life. Many believe that schizophrenia is likely caused by
a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. Certain people
are born with a tendency to develop the disease. But the disease only
appears if these people are exposed to unusual stresses or traumas.

Schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotic medication. Some people
with schizophrenia also benefit from counseling and rehabilitation. They may
need to go to the hospital during an acute attack. The goal of treatment is to
reduce symptoms during acute attacks and to help prevent relapses. At this
time, there is no cure for schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications are very
effective in controlling the symptoms of schizophrenia. These medications first
became available in the mid-1950s. They have greatly improved the lives of
thousands of people. Before that time, people with schizophrenia spent most
of their lives in crowded hospitals. With antipsychotic medication, however,
many people with schizophrenia are able to live in the outside world. Because
each person with schizophrenia has a unique mix of symptoms, no single
medication works best for all people. The ideal medication for one person
may not be the best choice for another. Although antipsychotic medications
do not cure the disease, they can reduce hallucinations and delusions and help
people with schizophrenia regain their grip on reality. Medication also
reduces the risk of they symptoms returning. If the person does have a
relapse of symptoms, medications may make the symptoms less severe.

People with schizophrenia can have a hard time communicating with other
people and carrying out ordinary tasks. Counseling and rehabilitation can help
people with schizophrenia build the skills they need to function outside the
sheltered setting of a hospital. However, these treatments are not very helpful
during acute attacks. Rehabilitation programs may help people with
schizophrenia develop skills such as money management, cooking, and
personal grooming, for example, needed for ordinary life. They may also
prepare the person to go or return to work. Individual psychotherapy may
help person with schizophrenia learn to sort out the real from the unreal.

Group therapy may help them learn to get along with others. Self-help groups
may help persons with schizophrenia feel that others share their problems.

The best way to prevent relapses is to continue to take the prescribed
medication. People with schizophrenia may stop taking their medications for
several reasons. Side effects are one of the most important reasons that
people with schizophrenia stop taking their medication. It is hard for people
to put up with unpleasant side effects for months or years. It is especially hard
when the person feels well. It is very important to find the medication that
controls symptoms without causing side effects. Convenience is also
important. Some medications need to be taken two, three, or even four times
a day. Others may be taken just once a day. People are more likely to
remember to take a medication once a day than several times a day. Some
people profer to get injections every month of long-lasting medication. Taking
medications regularly is the best way to prevent repeated illness and
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