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Schizophrenia: An Overview

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Schizophrenia is a serious brain disorder that distorts the way a person thinks, acts, expresses emotions, perceives reality, and relates to others. People with schizophrenia -- the most chronic and disabling of the major mental illnesses -- often have problems functioning in society, at work, at school, and in relationships. Schizophrenia can leave its sufferer frightened and withdrawn. It is a life-long disease that cannot be cured but can be controlled with proper treatment.

Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia is not a split or multiple personality. Schizophrenia is a psychosis, a type of mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. At times, people with psychotic disorders lose touch with reality. The world may seem like a jumble of confusing thoughts, images, and sounds. The behavior of people with schizophrenia may be very strange and even shocking. A sudden change in personality and behavior, which occurs when schizophrenia sufferers lose touch with reality, is called a psychotic episode.

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Schizophrenia varies in severity from person to person. Some people have only one psychotic episode while others have many episodes during a lifetime but lead relatively normal lives between episodes. Still other individuals with this disorder may experience a decline in their functioning over time with little improvement between full blown psychotic episodes. Schizophrenia symptoms seem to worsen and improve in cycles known as relapses and remissions.

 At one time, doctors used to classify  schizophrenia based on subtypes:

  • Paranoid: Where someone feels he is being persecuted or spied on.
  • Disorganized: Where people appear confused and incoherent.
  • Catatonic: Where people can be physically immobile or unable to speak.
  • Undifferentiated schizophrenia: Asubtype in which no paranoid, disorganized or catatonic features are prominent
  • Residual Schizophrenia: In which psychotic symptoms are markedly diminished or no longer present

Scientists think the above distinctions are no longer as accurate or useful as once thought and therefore instead just focus on describing symptoms and their severity. 

What Are the Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

People with schizophrenia may have a number of symptoms involving changes in ability, thinking, perception, behavior, and personality, and they may display different kinds of behavior at different times. When the illness first appears, symptoms usually are sudden and severe.

The most common symptoms of schizophrenia can be grouped into several categories including positive symptoms, cognitive symptoms,  and negative symptoms.

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