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Schizophrenia is a severe form of mental illness, characterized by impairments in a personís perception of reality and most commonly manifesting as hallucinations, paranoid delusions or disorganized speech and thinking. Approximately one percent of the population develops schizophrenia in their lifetime. Onset of symptoms usually occur in young adulthood. People with schizophrenia often suffer terrifying symptoms such as hearing voices not heard by others, or believing that other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. These symptoms may leave them fearful and withdrawn. Available treatments can relieve many symptoms, but most people with schizophrenia continue to suffer some symptoms throughout their lives. It is estimated that no more than one in five individuals recovers completely from schizophrenia. However, there is more hope today than in the past for those suffering from the disorder. New research is leading to safer medications and unraveling the very complex nature and causes of the illness.

The first symptoms of schizophrenia often appear as bazaar or shocking changes in the personís behavior. The person may appear confused or disoriented. The sudden onset of symptoms is referred to as an ďacute phase of schizophrenia.Ē Some people have only one such psychotic episode; others have many episodes during a lifetime, but lead relatively normal lives during the interim periods. A person with chronic schizophrenia, or a continuous or recurring pattern of the illness, usually requires long-term treatment, which includes medications to control the symptoms. Less obvious symptoms, such as social isolation or withdrawal, or unusual speech and thinking may be seen along with, or follow the psychotic symptoms.

Some studies suggest that genetics, early environment, neurobiology and psychological and social pressures are contributing factors to developing schizophrenia. Treatment is with antipsychotic medications that primarily work by suppressing dopamine activity. Psychotherapy, vocational and social rehabilitation are also important in treating schizophrenia. In more serious cases, for instance when there is a risk to self and others, involuntary hospitalization may be necessary. However, hospital stays are less frequent and for shorter periods than they were in previous years due to advancements in medications and therapy. A person with schizophrenia may experience social problems, such as long-term unemployment, poverty and homelessness. The average life expectancy of people with schizophrenia is 10-12 years less than those without it, due to increased health problems and a higher suicide rate. A diagnosis of schizophrenia is based on the self-reported experiences of the person as well as abnormalities in behavior reported by family members, friends or co-workers. This is followed by secondary signs observed by a psychiatrist, social worker, clinical psychologist or other professional in a clinical assesment. There is a list of criteria that must be met for someone to be diagnosed that depend on both the presence and duration of certain signs and symptoms.


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