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Schizophrenia

It is not known what causes schizophrenia; several factors are normally involved in its onset. The condition is known to be partly inherited, but this does not mean that children of schizophrenics inevitably get schizophrenia. It is likely that a biochemical defect in the brain predisposes some people to schizophrenia, and that when people with this defect are subjected to external stresses, they break down with schizophrenic symptoms. Worldwide, about one per cent of the population suffers an attack of schizophrenia at some time in their lives.

Symptoms

The symptoms of schizophrenia are of two kinds: positive, where some abnormal element appears in the mental state; and negative, where something normal disappears from a person's make-up. The positive symptoms are hallucinations (usually hearing voices) and delusions (false beliefs which seem very important to the sufferer). The voices usually say things with little emotional content, such as echoing thoughts, or a running commentary on actions. The delusions may be persecutory or grandiose and are often bizarre. The negative symptoms include loss of the richness of emotional life: the victim becomes apathetic with no ability to interact with people, and withdraws socially. These may be the only symptoms of schizophrenia but they are very difficult to treat.

Treatment

Hallucinations and delusions are normally controlled by antipsychotic drugs. These do not improve negative symptoms, however. A long course of rehabilitation is often necessary, with a slow re-entry into the community. Even so, a proportion of schizophrenics are so ill that they must remain in hospital for long periods, and relapse each time discharge is attempted.

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