Conditions InDepth: Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and progressively disabling disease of the brain. 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 These symptoms may leave them fearful and withdrawn. Their speech and behavior can be so disorganized that they may be incomprehensible or frightening to others.

The combination of severe symptoms and chronic course of illness can cause a high degree of disability for those who suffer from schizophrenia. Approximately 1% of the population develops schizophrenia during their lifetime; more than 3 million Americans suffer from the illness in a given year. Although schizophrenia affects men and women with equal frequency, the disorder often appears earlier in men. Men are usually affected in their late teens or early twenties, while women are generally affected in their twenties to early thirties.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes schizophrenia. Problems with brain structure and chemistry are thought to play a role. There also appears to be a genetic component. Some researchers believe that environmental factors may contribute. Some have theorized that a viral infection in infancy and/or extreme stress may trigger schizophrenia in people who are predisposed.

Schizophrenia increases a person’s risk of suicide, self-mutilation, substance abuse, and other social problems such as unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration. Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects a significant number of people with schizophrenia.

What are the risk factors for schizophrenia?
What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?
How is schizophrenia diagnosed?
What are the treatments for schizophrenia?
Are there screening tests for schizophrenia?
How can I reduce my risk of schizophrenia?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is it like to live with schizophrenia?
Where can I get more information about schizophrenia?


National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: .

Last reviewed July 2007 by Ryan Estevez, MD, PhD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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