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Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects about 1 percent of Americans. Found in both men and women equally, it often appears earlier in men (late teens or early twenties), than in women (mid-twenties to early thirties). Symptoms seldom occur after age 45 and only rarely before puberty, although cases of schizophrenia in children as young as five have been reported.
While there are currently no physical tests that can absolutely diagnose schizophrenia, people who suffer from the disorder will likely exhibit multiple symptoms. Early signs of schizophrenia often appear as extreme changes in behavior as a result of experiences the person may be undergoing – experiences that can include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. More subtle changes that can occur in a person’s behavior are fearfulness, social withdrawal or extreme agitation. People with schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk, may sit for hours without moving or talking much, or may seem perfectly fine until they talk about what they are really thinking.
While it is not always easy to tell when someone is beginning to experience schizophrenic episodes, there are many symptoms that are indicators. Symptoms fall into three categories:
Positive symptoms are easy-to-spot behaviors not seen in healthy people and usually involve a loss of contact with reality including:
Negative symptoms are more difficult to recognize and include:
Cognitive symptoms are also difficult to recognize but are the most disabling in terms of leading a normal life and include:
What you can do to help
If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, don't wait for the problem to go away by itself. Most people who have schizophrenia must cope with residual symptoms as long as they live. However, many people with the disorder can lead rewarding and meaningful lives in their communities. Researchers are developing more effective medications and using new research tools to understand the causes of schizophrenia and to find ways to prevent and treat it. Get help now.
When you need someone to talk to, turn to Belmont Behavioral Health at 1-800-220-HELP (4357) or 215-877-2000.
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