Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble

Schizophrenia - A Brain in Trouble. What is real, what is not?
Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble. What is real, what is not?

Definition of Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble

Schizophrenia is a medical condition, a brain disorder. The brain changes caused by schizophrenia change how a person shows emotions, how they think, what they believe, what they hear, and how they behave. Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble.

Not a Do It Yourself Project

But, to slow things down a bit. Below we describe signs and symptoms of schizophrenia. You have to understand, or at least try to understand, that it is not a medical condition that you can identify on your own, all by yourself. As with any other medical disorder, you need to see a doctor, a real doctor, who can see the right signs, ask the right questions, and run the right tests to then give an opinion: Is this schizophrenia or not?

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At the Beginning – Signs & Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Early on, at a first glimpse, it might just be that “something” has changed. That’s the first sign, that it’s obvious that something has changed. You might not be able to put your finger on exactly what, but something’s definitely different. It’s hard to get very specific here because the first signs and symptoms can appear over a few weeks, or a few months, or a few years. So, it can be really gradual. It’s different for each person. It might be something quirky, like coming up with a new belief about something that seems out of character, that makes little sense. The first signs might be comments on hearing something, but each time, no one else can hear the sound, noise, or voice. The person might seem “deep in thought” too much or too often when they’ve never been like this before.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble

“Positive symptoms” are the easily seen changes of schizophrenia, the fixed false beliefs, voices, and scattered thinking discussed below. “Negative symptoms”, the things that are missing with schizophrenia, are described below, too.

New Fixed False Beliefs (Delusions)

A person might start believing things or ideas that are odd and unusual and that don’t make sense. Like, their best friend has turned against them, or that people on the TV are talking to them. Or they might turn oddly religious or might start believing that they have special powers. Like they can think their way out of trouble. And you, as a reasonable person, mighty try to explain that they’re being silly or unreasonable. But they don’t get it, they get mad, or quiet, and they don’t believe you.

Voices That Aren’t There (Hallucinations)

This is a big one. The person hears someone speaking. Not a faint voice, not a voice that’s just maybe there. It’s a clear voice, one that’s right here, as though someone is standing next to them talking. Except, there’s no one there and no one else can hear the voice. And as with the beliefs, if you try to convince them that there is no voice, they won’t believe you. They hear the voice, they know someone is speaking. It’s not just thoughts in their head, it’s absolutely real.

Scattered Thinking

The person’s thinking becomes a bit scattered. And, of course, we know how someone is thinking by how they are speaking, to their speech is scattered. We’re not talking about complete gibberish here. It’s just talking in a way that’s a bit less connected. And that’s out of character, not the way they usually have usually spoken.

Signs & Symptoms That Aren’t There – The Negative Symptoms

If you know a person well these will be easy for you to spot. For example, a person doesn’t get excited about a situation or event that usually would excite them. They’re not that interested in the great new movie release. And that big upcoming birthday party? They’d rather skip it. They just don’t want to do anything. Even fun things. They might not say much and might not want to attend any social events.

We Need To Say It Again – You Can’t Make This Diagnosis By Yourself

Sorry to be boringly repetitive here, but we gotta. While the signs and symptoms mentioned above are a central part of the picture, a lot more needs to be considered. Get yourself or get the person to do see a good doctor. If other medical things are going on it might not be schizophrenia at all. One needs to get thyroid levels, other hormone levels, brain scans and maybe x-rays, a good medical history, and a good physical exam to confirm things.

A Quick Test for Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble

We need to be careful here because we don’t know these folks personally. This group that call themselves Psych Central say that they’re the Internet’s largest and oldest independent mental health online resource, that they’ve been around since 1995 and that they are really mental health professionals. A doctor, John M. Grohol, PsyD, designed the schizophrenia quiz, with help from other psychological researchers. The quiz is said to be based on scientific studies and diagnostic criteria. Dr. Grohol is a published researcher, author, and mental health expert, and is on the scientific board of Computers in Human Behavior.

But with those cautions and disclaimers made, here’s the link to a 3-minute schizophrenia test.

PsychCentral’s 3-Minute Schizophrenia Test

In Women vs. In Men – Signs & Symptoms of Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble

There’s usually not much difference in the symptoms and signs of schizophrenia between women and men. “Inappropriate emotions” was the one difference that was found in a big study (1526 patients) of women and men with schizophrenia in the U.S. and India. In the study a history of “inappropriate emotions” meant that the person showed emotions that just didn’t fit the situation. And more women than men had a history of showing these inappropriate emotions, but not by much. Forty-two percent of the men and 55% of the women had it, so the difference was actually close to an even 50/50 split.

There Are Other Differences Between Men and Women with Schizophrenia

In both the U.S. and India, there were other gender differences. One was the course of the illness over time. Younger women (pre-menopause) had better course of the illness, meaning a less awful experience, than men. Men with schizophrenia were less likely to be married that the women. And, the women were likely to have more children than the men.

The study had 395 men and 240 women in the U.S., and 480 men and 403 women in India. Here’s the link to the research paper:

Women vs. Men – Symptoms of Schizophrenia Research Paper in Psychiatric Investigations

It’s a Common Problem

Schizophrenia is really common. Worldwide, about 77 million people have schizophrenia.  It equally crosses all the artificial social divisions that we human beings construct, affecting rich and poor, intelligent and challenged, all ethnicities, and any genders. And it’s about equal in men and women.

Schizophrenia is a Brain-based Condition

Schizophrenia is a condition that affects the brain.  As is discussed on our page Spiritual Splattered Brains (formerly Your Mind & Your Brain,) all our body areas are connected to each other.  So, in addition to the brain, schizophrenia affects many other organ systems like the immune system and the endocrine system (endocrine as in diabetic tendencies).

Schizophrenia is a Medical Condition

We hope this point is clear from the above discussion, but we want to make it crystal clear: schizophrenia is physical. It’s as physical as a missing leg is physical. It is real, based in brain tissue changes. Here’s the problem. Many people use the word “mental”, as in mental illness, to mean not real. This use of the word “mental” is sad, pathetic, and just plain wrong. Schizophrenia is not some vague, hazy thought or emotion just floating about in someone’s mind or head. It is corrupted brain hardware circuitry, hard wiring and circuits gone wrong in a person’s brain.

We Do Live in our Brain

As we’ve said, schizophrenia is a brain problem. That’s a big problem because we live in our brain. There is such a thing as mild schizophrenia, but it’s rare. Schizophrenia as we know it now is usually bad. People with schizophrenia might hear voices that others don’t hear, voices that aren’t real. They might not view what’s going on around them the same as most other people would. And because of the way their brain’s working they might make social mistakes and make other people mad. So, after a while, they start staying away from people. People with schizophrenia can get nervous, afraid, and upset. They might accidently upset others by talking in a way or about things that people around them think are strange or that make little sense. While there are good medications that help, being able to be in a secure, safe place also helps.

We Need Better Medicines for Schizophrenia

Anyone with schizophrenia, and anyone who knows anyone with it, will agree that we need better medicines. Today’s best medicines are huge advances over the medicines of 10 years ago. And those medicines were better than the ones of 20 years ago. And those 20-years-ago medicines were again incredibly better than the ones of 50 years ago. But today’s medicines are still not good enough. Most people with schizophrenia never return to the way they were before the illness started. We need to fix that.

Explosion and Revolution in Schizophrenia Knowledge and Research

The explosion and revolution in schizophrenia knowledge and research is such that it is hard for us to contain ourselves. Doctors can now see childhood signs far before the illness starts. There are newly found signs that happen just before the first psychosis starts. We understand better the way the disorder changes through life after that first episode, all add to a whole new view. Schizophrenia – a brain in trouble.

Seeing Schizophrenia Before It Hits

People have early changes in the way they act for a time before the first clear signs of positive symptoms appear. Experts aren’t sure how far before full positive symptoms the early signs can be seen.  It could be that these early signs can be seen for years before positive symptoms hit.  Maybe the first early signs can be seen in toddler years or infancy. People are searching all around the world to find out more. If we could tell early enough who is going to get schizophrenia we might be able to prevent it altogether.

Psychosis That Lasts Too Long Is Brain Toxic – Makes Schizophrenia Worse

The changes in the brain that result in psychosis seem to damage the brain in a way that makes ongoing and worsening psychosis more likely. The result of this situation is that if early signs of psychosis start and it is not treated quickly, it will get worse and harder to treat. And the longer it goes untreated, the worse the condition will become and the more and more difficult it is to treat.  In such a situation it certainly will likely never go away completely.

It Lasts a Lifetime

Schizophrenia a chronic medical condition. It lasts all through one’s life. In the old days, before we had the better medicines we have now, when someone was sent to an residence hospital for schizophrenia they usually stayed for the rest of their life. With today’s medicines and other treatments the condition can improve to the point of people being almost free of symptoms.  The sad part is that too often people feel so well that they stop their medicine at times and, as a result, their wellbeing falls apart. True, they will improve again when they restart their medicine. But each episode of psychosis is toxic to the brain, so the improvement with restarting medicine will likely not bring them back to the place they were before they stopped the medicine.

Diagnose and Treat Schizophrenia Immediately and It Might Go Away

As we said above, starting and stopping medicines is an real bad idea.  (See our page on Treating Schizophrenia.) It’s likely that the psychosis makes itself worse, that is, psychosis is toxic to the brain and makes it easier for more psychosis to occur. Allowing any psychosis to persist for very long can set up the person for a lifetime of worse illness than need be. This means that if the first early symptoms start and it’s quickly treated and treated really well immediately, it might go away. Even if it doesn’t go away completely, the individual is likely to get better and have a milder course throughout his life.

Wipe Out Schizophrenia – A Brain in Trouble

So maybe if we can find it early on and treat it really well, we could wipe out schizophrenia altogether. Eliminating schizophrenia is a goal of everyone close to the condition: doctors, scientists, patients, relatives, and friends. And we’re getting close. See our page on Treating Schizophrenia.

What Causes Schizophrenia? Its Causes are Complicated and Varied

A couple of big things make schizophrenia more likely. One is everything a person goes through from the start of pregnancy to today, for example, things that the baby goes through while his/her mother is pregnant. The other big thing is your genes. What did you inherit from mom and dad, grandparents, and other ancestors. As all the parts of experiences and genes mix together, you can understand that schizophrenia in one person might be different from schizophrenia in another individual. This means that there is not just one disorder, “schizophrenia”, but many, many similar but each a bit different disorders, the “schizophrenias”. And, while these different schizophrenias might look similar, they are not alike. Yes, it does get confusing.

The Baby in the Womb and Schizophrenia

We have no control over what happens to us while our mothers are pregnant with us. Many things that affect the developing baby can occur. Damage to a developing baby is one possible cause of schizophrenia even though the disorder does not appear until teenage years or in young adults. These bad effects on a baby’s well-being include a mother’s temporary diabetes while she is pregnant, any bleeding that she has during pregnancy, and things that can go wrong in labor and delivery like too little oxygen, an emergency C-section, and low birth weight. Another possible problem is infections that a mother has during the middle part of her pregnancy. And/or a mother’s high stress levels during this time. These situations might lead to additional problems for the baby. These effects during the middle 3 months on the forming baby could double the risk of developing schizophrenia.

It Does At Times Run in Families

Schizophrenia can and sometimes does run in families. Families with one family member with schizophrenia are more likely to have other family members with it. Or, consider adopted children born to biological parents with a genetic risk for schizophrenia. They seem to have the same risk for getting schizophrenia in their new, adoptive home as they would have had if they had stayed in the home of their biological parents. Schizophrenia also runs in families that have family members with bipolar disorder (manic depression). So, these two conditions are linked in some way.

A Dangerous Trap for People with Schizophrenia – Alcoholism

When one is not able to understand what’s going on it’s more difficult to see danger coming.  So a danger that catches and traps even many clear-minded people without psychosis is an even greater risk for someone who is psychotic.  We’re talking here about alcoholism and smoking.  The two most common substance use disorders among those with schizophrenia are Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and Tobacco Use Disorder (TUD), and tobacco, for all its dangers and possibly even eventually causing death, is far less toxic and corrosive that alcohol.  There are estimates that about 20% to 30% of people with schizophrenia are alcoholics.

In 2011 Oliver Clark, in the UK, started a free drug and alcohol helpline.  He has a website with additional information on how alcohol does not mix with schizophrenia.  Here’s the link:

https://www.rehab4addiction.co.uk/guides/alcoholism-schizophrenia

Helpful links:

NIH, National Institute of Mental Health – The NIH/NIMH on Schizophrenia

National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus – MedlinePlus on Schizophrenia

The Mayo Clinic on Schizophrenia

American Psychiatric Association on Schizophrenia

National Alliance on Mental Illness on Schizophrenia

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