Schizophrenia – Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Schizophrenia and the recent study that can cure it

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is characterized by abnormal social behavior and inability to determine what is real. It is chronic in nature. It is a highly disabling disorder. A survey reported that seven to eight people out of one thousand people have schizophrenia.

Below is a list of some common symptoms of Schizophrenia.

Hearing voices– They could be seeing things that aren’t there and hearing sounds and voices that aren’t real. These can be depressing, disturbing and scary. Reduced emotional expression- Schizophrenic people generally have difficulty in expressing themselves.

They tend to keep to themselves and be away from the social activities. Their reduced feelings could lead to the lack of pleasure in the everyday life.

Reduced social engagement– Schizophrenic people have been observed and it is seen that they tend to believe that other people are constantly watching them or trying to control their actions. As a result, they have a hard time coping with social engagements.

Hallucinations– Hallucinations are experiences caused by any of the five senses, which are eyesight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, in the absence of a stimulus. Schizophrenic patients have been observed to talk to themselves.

Apparently, they talk to the voices that they hear. Sometimes they hear voices of their own minds which are called the internal voice. External voices refer to those voices which appear to come from an external source. For example, a schizophrenic may hear another person speaking commanding or warning him or her.

Delusions– Delusions are false beliefs that contradict the real fact bearing evidence. Delusions stay even when there is evidence that the delusional beliefs are illogical and impractical. People with schizophrenia often have delusions that are very impractical.

They may perceive that people on the television are conveying special messages to them, or that radio stations are broadcasting their thoughts all across the world. These are known as “delusions of reference”.

False beliefs – They may believe that they are someone else, such as iconic figures in the history or a famous figure. They may be under the impression that others are trying to cause harm by going against them on their backs. These beliefs are known as “persecutory delusions.”

Confused thinking – Disordered thoughts and confused thinking refer to dysfunctional thinking. One form of it is called “Disorganized thinking” which happens when a person has trouble organizing his thoughts or connecting them with sense and logic.

A schizophrenic person may speak in a way which is hard to understand as the person lacks the ability to think in an organized manner. This is often referred to as “word salad”. The person may make up words.

Multiple personality disorder– It is also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). It refers to a mental disorder that is characterized by at least two or more distinct identities that show in the same person at alternating times. It is one of the most controversial mental disorders and it has no clear treatment. Diagnosis of this disorder is often difficult. Symptoms include:

Memory loss – Amnesia or memory loss refers to the loss of memory in such an extensive way that it cannot be confused with plain forgetfulness. A person suffering from DID may forget what his or her other personality has done. He can forget his past course of actions within instants of time as he or she transitions from one personality to another.

Depersonalization– This refers to the feeling of being detached from the body. Some people who have DID, tend to get too attached to any one of their personalities. When they come back to their normal disposition or switch to another personality, they feel detached. It is highly disturbing.

Identity confusion– This occurs when a person has more than one personality and he or she is completely unaware of it. They may or may not retain memories from the other identities and often get confused. The patient may have several other symptoms which include mood swings, eating disorder, depression. They may have suicidal tendencies as well.

Schizophrenic people often have other mental problems like anxiety disorder or major depression. The symptoms usually begin in early adult stages and last for a long time. Environmental and genetic factors may cause and enhance the development of Schizophrenia. It is generally associated with the reduction in the brain tissue volume.

Scientists and researchers know that schizophrenia can be a genetically passed disease. This mental problem occurs in less than 1 percent of the general population. It occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as parents and siblings. The twins have the maximum probability of getting this disorder.

The chances are as high as 45-50 %.  It doesn’t always happen that people with schizophrenic relatives also suffer from the same. On the other hand, it may happen that a schizophrenic person has no relative who have had his disease. So, it may be genetic or non-genetic. The research is still going on and not enough information has been found out on the genetic level.

Thus, the scientists and researchers working in this field have not found any cure that will help the schizophrenic patients on a genetic level. There can be more than one reason for schizophrenia to occur. Scientists think that the interaction between genes and an individual’s environment are required for the development schizophrenia.

Environmental factors also play a huge role in the health of a person. Psychosis is a side effect that often happens to schizophrenic patients. Factors that contribute to mental disorders such as schizophrenia can be a childhood trauma, death of a loved one, a highly shocking experience, being bullied during childhood increase the risk of psychosis.

It has also been observed that schizophrenia in a person can be caused by an intestinal tract dysfunction due to abnormalities in the intestinal flora.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals across a chemical synapse from one neuron to a target cell or muscle. Scientists believe that an imbalance in the complex and interrelated chemical reactions of the brain that involve the neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate contribute to the cause of the disease.

Brain structures of schizophrenic people are more or less different than that of people without schizophrenia. These differences were observed and noted from the brain scans or MRI that were done on schizophrenic and non-schizophrenic people.

The differences are not highly significant and not nearly enough to detect that a person is suffering from schizophrenia. Study of brains after death revealed that there are changes in the location and structure of the gray matter in specific parts. Scientists are trying to find some link between the chemical responses of the brain and the cause of schizophrenia.

General treatments of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is believed to be caused by degeneration of brain tissues and the damage caused by it. However, the causes are still not known fully. The treatments of schizophrenia generally are treatments of the consequences of the disease. Treatments include antipsychotic medication, psychological treatments, and relevant medication.

Antipsychotic medications may have dangerous and severe side effects when they are taken with other medicines. That is one of the limitations of the new study, which will be covered in the following sections.

Because of that, the doctors treating a schizophrenic patient need to be aware of all the medications that the patient is taking. Doctors need to do a full medical background check of the patient, know if they are on caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or any other addictive drugs. Without such detailed information, it is highly risky that they prescribe medicines.

Psychosocial Treatments

Psychosocial treatments can help people suffering from schizophrenia who are stabilized. This type of treatment helps individuals deal with everyday challenges, work, and the communication required to work.

They learn how to deal with emotions, how to build their careers and achieve their goals. They are assisted in activities like attending school, their behavior with the fellow classmates. Schizophrenic people undergoing psychological treatments are less likely to suffer from sudden relapses or are hospitalized.

Family Education

Family education teaches the relatives, friends of the schizophrenic person about schizophrenia, its cause and effects, and its treatment too. This education increases their capacity to help their loved one in recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type that kind of psychotherapy that focuses on altering disorganized patterns of thinking and behavior. The CBT teaches schizophrenic people how to determine what is real and what is not.

It teaches them how to listen and determine the voices that they hear, how to be more social and, how to express their emotions. CBT can be done in groups or it can be delivered individually.

Self-help Groups

In self-help groups, schizophrenic people, group members support each other and share information on helpful coping strategies and services. They share their problems with one another. Professional therapists do not take part in this.

People in self-help groups are aware that the other members are facing similar problems as they are. By sharing their experiences they feel relaxed and connected.

The new findings

A new study shows that brains affected by schizophrenia, possibly have the ability to reorganize themselves and fight against the condition. The study has been made based on MRI scans of brains of Schizophrenic patients.

In fact, this is the first time that imaging scans have been used to demonstrate the ability of the brain to counteract the adverse effects of schizophrenia. This illness is generally associated with the reduction in the brain tissue, but the new evidence suggests something else. The new studies reveal that there may be a small increase in the brain tissue and its growth can occur in some specific areas of the brain.

Over time, the repairing effect makes the schizophrenic patients’ brains more and more like the brains of the people who do not suffer from this illness. This could be a major help to scientists as it will enable them to find out new ways to treat this disease.

In this study, the scientists analyzed 98 people with schizophrenia and 83 people without schizophrenia. The number of patients examined was small but the same study can be made of a larger group. This could be a breakthrough in the field of medical science. This could lead scientists and doctors in a new direction and find a cure for about 21million schizophrenic people worldwide.

They found a small increase in brain tissue in specific parts of the brain in the group of people with schizophrenia after the MRI scans were taken. The areas where the small increase was spotted was noted along with the areas which have reduced gray matter. The theory of schizophrenia goes against the findings of this study.

The generally accepted concept of schizophrenia suggests that this disease permanently damages the brain in the primary stages and this process cannot be reversed. However, the new study shows otherwise.

Studies and expert opinions

The Medical Director of the Prevention & Early Intervention Program for Psychoses (PEPP) at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), Dr. Lena Palaniyappan says that it is an accepted fact that people with severe mental disorders like schizophrenia cannot be cured. Dr. Palaniyappan also said, “Even the state-of-art Frontline treatments aim merely for a reduction rather than a reversal of the cognitive and functional deficits caused by the illness”.

Schizophrenia is regarded as a long-term degenerative disease that causes permanent damage to the brain. The results of the scan show that despite going through such tremendous damage, the brain of a schizophrenic always attempts to reorganize itself trying to limit the damage to a possible extent.

The scientists and researchers plan to look further into the matter and characterize the evolution of the process of brain tissue reorganization by doing scans of individual patients who have the early stages of schizophrenia. They plan to study the effect of this reorganization.

Dr. Palaniyappan and colleagues used the analysis to study the brain of a schizophrenic. They found that the brain was fuller than they were in the past. Their findings suggest that the reorganization starts to take place in the early stages of the development of the disease.

The team of researchers used a technique called covariance analysis to study the schizophrenic brains. Covariance analysis refers to the comparison of one variable in two or more groups taking note of the variability of other variables which are called covariates. Analysis of covariance is combined with one-way or two-way analysis of variance with linear regression.

The cure of Schizophrenia has not been found yet. So if this theory can lead the scientists, researchers, and doctors to a new direction that can finally cure the people suffering from this horrific mental condition, it will be a big step forward. It will provide new ways to fight the disease.

Limitation

The study, however, had a limitation. In cases of the regeneration or remodeling of the brain, the control of medical related effects may be lacking. This effect may be uniform among many patients of schizophrenia since they are likely on anti-psychotic medications.

The study also mentions that the minute changes the schizophrenic person’s brain goes through may be so small that it is unnoticeable. As there is damage in one part and growth in the other, the tiny growth in a specific area may go unnoticed. Thus, the medications that the schizophrenic patients are already on may have different kinds of effects on the process of reorganization and regeneration of brain tissue.

And that varies from person to person. These findings are important for two reasons. Firstly, they point to a new way of the development of specific treatments.  They can actually help in the core pathology of schizophrenia. Secondly, it will be an eye-opening research and add to the novelty of the study. However, the first point is the most important one.

The plasticity of the brain and the development of therapies which are related to it would offer positivity and optimism to an illness that was considered as premature dementia about a hundred years ago. “Dr. Palaniyappan and his colleagues have opened new avenues of research into our understanding of schizophrenia,” says Dr. Paul Links, chief, psychiatry, LHSC.

Their research findings can lead us to tackle the brain’s compensatory changes and it may help in the process of recovery. Dr. Palaniyappan and her colleagues will continue this much needed and important research in London.

The family and friends of a person suffering from schizophrenia play a big role in the patient’s life. The support and care that the loved ones give help them in the recovery process. Positive and healthy communication is a good approach. Schizophrenic persons see things that aren’t real and hear voices that aren’t there. So believing them might be difficult, but remember, those voices and images are very real to them.

Regarding them as false or wrong may have a negative effect on them. Regarding their hallucinations and delusions as imagination or even going along with it will not be helpful. The best solution is to ask the person to divert his or her mind and try to see things in a different manner.

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