This brain disorder affects 1% of the world’s population. People who have it may hear voices or see things that aren’t real. But what exactly happens inside the brain of someone who has schizophrenia?
A lot, it turns out. Scientists believe people who have the disorder may have higher rates of genetic mutations (changes in a gene’s structure) than others. These differences can affect hundreds of genes and may disrupt brain development. Studies show that certain brain chemicals that control thinking,...
Psychiatrists have the most experience with diagnosing schizophrenia. A psychiatrist or other licensed mental health professional should be involved in making a schizophrenia diagnosis whenever possible.
A schizophrenia diagnosis can be made when all of the following are true about a person:
The person is significantly impaired by the symptoms; for example, he/she has serious difficulty working or with social relationships, compared to the period before symptoms began.
The symptoms can't be explained by another diagnosis, such as drug use or another mental illness.
People with schizophrenia sometimes do not recognize their symptoms, or may be afraid of them. They may be suspicious of others or think other people are talking about them behind their backs. They may deny their symptoms or conceal them symptoms from doctors or loved ones. This can make it more difficult to confirm a schizophrenia diagnosis.
Diagnosing Schizophrenia by Symptoms
Conditions With Similar Symptoms to Schizophrenia
Other mental illnesses and medical conditions sometimes include symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia.
To diagnose schizophrenia with confidence, a doctor needs to be sure that a patient doesn't have other conditions that are causing the symptoms.
Conditions that can potentially create confusion around a schizophrenia diagnosis include:
Drug use. Hallucinogens or chronic use of cocaine can cause:
Schizoaffective disorder. This is a psychotic mental illness that is almost identical to schizophrenia. But the patient also experiences severe mood disturbances (mania or depression) along with their psychotic symptoms.
People with schizophrenia may also have depression or abuse drugs. These problems can make the schizophrenia diagnosis unclear. The only way for a psychiatrist to reliably make a schizophrenia diagnosis in these cases is by watching and interviewing a person over time.