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Schizophrenia by Leo C. Roberts
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder marked by a variety of symptoms. Although the term literally means “split mind”, schizophrenia does not imply a split personality. Schizophrenia is, in fact, a very different disorder altogether. Like cancer and diabetes, schizophrenia is believed to have a biological cause. Recent research suggests that schizophrenia is linked to abnormalities of brain chemistry and brain structure. Brain-scanning techniques have also provided demonstrative evidence that schizophrenia is every bit as much of an organic brain disorder as Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimer’s. 

Schizophrenia is one of the most common mental illnesses and viewed by some experts as being the most severe major mental illness. About 1% of the population is affected by schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is found throughout the world, in all races, nationalities, and cultures. Although schizophrenia affects men and women in equal numbers, men appear to develop schizophrenia earlier than women do. Schizophrenia can affect anyone at any age but, typically, the first episode takes place between ages 16 and 30. Schizophrenia costs society approximately $32.5 billion per year in the US. 

The symptoms that are most commonly associated with the disease are: diminished ability to think clearly and logically (thought disorder), delusions, and hallucinations. Only some of these symptoms, however, are present in any one individual. Hallucinations can be heard, seen, or even felt. Most often, they take the form of voices heard only by the afflicted person. Such voices may warn him of danger or tell the individual what to do. At times, the individual may hear several voices carrying on a conversation. An affected person may even believe that he is being conspired against (paranoid delusion). In order to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, a patient must have psychotic symptoms for at least six months and show significant difficulty in functioning normally.

Anti-psychotic drugs (also called neuroleptics), available since the 1950s, can dramatically improve the condition of people with schizophrenia. These medications help relieve the delusions, hallucinations, and thinking problems associated with this devastating disorder. Scientists believe the drugs work by correcting imbalances in the chemicals that help brain cells communicate with one another. Unfortunately, the drugs can produce minor side effects such as dry mouth and drowsiness. Some patients, after taking the medication for a number of years, may develop a condition known as Tardive Dyskinesia. This condition is characterized by abnormal movements of the mouth and tongue. Tardive Dyskinesia has no known cure and may not disappear after the drugs are discontinued.

While there is no cure for schizophrenia, it is highly treatable. In fact, the treatment success rate for schizophrenia is comparable to the treatment success rate for heart disease. Usually a combination of anti-psychotic drugs and some form of psychotherapy is used to treat schizophrenia. Not every schizophrenic patient benefits from anti-psychotic drugs and some may not even need them at all. The psychotherapy is often used to help those patients who do receive medication to overcome social and professional difficulties that may have developed as a result of their illness. It is very important to diagnose and treat schizophrenia as early as possible in order to help people avoid frequent relapses. Several promising, large-scale studies have also suggested that early intervention may forestall the worst long-term outcomes of this disorder.
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