Schizophrenia is characterized by significant impairments in perception and changes in behavior. Symptoms may include persistent delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, highly disorganized behavior, or extreme agitation. People with schizophrenia may experience persistent difficulties with their cognitive functioning. Yet, a range of effective treatment options exists, including medication, psychoeducation, family interventions, and psychosocial rehabilitation. Schizophrenia affects approximately 24 million people or 1 in 300 people worldwide. People with schizophrenia have a life expectancy of 10-20 years below that of the general population.
No Cure Yet, But Symptoms May Be Managed
There is currently no cure for schizophrenia, though there are medications and other treatments that have proven effective in managing certain symptoms, allowing individuals with schizophrenia to achieve a quality of life.
Treatment is a lifelong necessity for someone with schizophrenia, and assistance with certain aspects of daily living is required for many people with the illness.
Like depression or bipolar disorder, schizophrenia can sometimes present with very intense symptoms, while at other times signs of the conditions are much less obvious. Working closely with a mental health professional with experience treating schizophrenia is vital to helping people with the disorder live as healthy a life as possible.
Diagnosis of schizophrenia involves ruling out other mental health disorders and determining that symptoms are not due to substance abuse, medication, or a medical condition. Determining a diagnosis of schizophrenia may include:
- Physical exam
This may be done to help rule out other problems that could be causing symptoms and to check for any related complications.
- Tests and screenings
These may include tests that help rule out conditions with similar symptoms and screening for alcohol and drugs. The doctor may also request imaging studies, such as an MRI or CT scan.
- Psychiatric evaluation
A doctor or mental health professional checks mental status by observing appearance and demeanor and asking about thoughts, moods, delusions, hallucinations, substance use, and potential for violence or suicide. This also includes a discussion of family and personal history.
- Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia
A doctor or mental health professional may use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even when symptoms have subsided. Treatment with medications and psychosocial therapy can help manage the condition. In some cases, hospitalization may be needed.
A psychiatrist experienced in treating schizophrenia usually guides treatment. The treatment team also may include a psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, and possibly a case manager to coordinate care. The full-team approach may be available in clinics with expertise in schizophrenia treatment.