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    How to Recognize Schizophrenia in Teens

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    Schizophrenia can be hard to spot in teens. Sometimes it can be tough to see the difference between ordinary teenage moodiness and signs of more serious illness, although this disease usually begins in late adolescence or young adulthood.

    Here are some symptoms to watch out for that can help you decide if you need to check with your doctor.

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    What to Look For

    Symptoms in teens can come on gradually over 9 months or more. They can sometimes imitate those of other problems such as anxiety or depression. Especially at first, symptoms may look like the stuff of typical teen years: bad grades, changing friends, trouble sleeping, or irritability.

    But there are some early warning signs in teens that show up as changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior.

    Changes in Thinking

    • Lack of concentration or ability to follow a train of thought
    • Seeing or hearing things that aren't real (hallucinations)
    • Confusing television and dreams with reality
    • Strange ideas that may not make sense (for example, thinking that parents are stealing things or that an evil spirit possesses him)
    • Paranoia -- thinking that people are after him or talking about him
    • Dwelling unreasonably on the past

    Changes in Emotions

    • Extreme moodiness or irritability
    • Angry outbursts
    • Severe fearfulness or anxiety

    Changes in Behavior

    • Unblinking, vacant expression
    • Awkward or unusual movements of the face or body
    • Talking to himself, using odd speech that you can't understand, or making rapid shifts in topics
    • Inappropriate responses, such as laughing during a sad movie
    • Trouble "reading" social cues in others
    • Problems making and keeping friends
    • Becoming increasingly isolated
    • Poor personal grooming and self-care
    • Substance abuse
    • Threatening behaviors

    What to Do About Schizophrenia Symptoms in Teens

    If you notice symptoms like these, your teen needs to be checked by a doctor right away. That's especially true if there's a history of schizophrenia in your family.  There is no definitive test or laboratory measure to diagnose schizophrenia, but your teen's doctor will want to do an initial evaluation that involves a series of questions about his thinking and behavior. 

    The doctor may also perform a physical exam and take some blood or urine tests to make sure there isn't another medical condition or drug abuse problem that could be mimicking symptoms of schizophrenia.  Schizophrenia is diagnosed when its symptoms persist for at least 6 months and are not better explained by another medical or psychiatric condition. Sometimes it takes longer than 6 months to make a confident diagnosis, based on how symptoms appear over time.

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