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What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder. It can affect the ability to think clearly, manage feelings, make decisions, and relate to other people. It affects about 1% of the population – about 2.4 million American adults. It occurs equally in both men and women. The onset of schizophrenia usually occurs between the late teens and the mid-30s.

Siblings and offspring of people who have schizophrenia have a 10 times greater risk for the condition than the general population. What that means is that if a parent has schizophrenia, a child of that person has a 10 times greater risk of developing the condition. Nobody yet knows exactly how schizophrenia happens, or why.

In most people, the symptoms tend to have a gradual onset. Once symptoms of schizophrenia begin, it is usually a lifelong illness. Research suggests that schizophrenia may be caused by too many or too few chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are thought to control emotions, motivation, movement, and how people experience the world around them. A problem with these chemicals may cause messages in the brain to get mixed up and bring about symptoms.

The good news is that, once properly diagnosed, schizophrenia can be managed. With a combination of treatment that may include medication and psychotherapy, many people with schizophrenia are able to participate in daily activities and live productive and meaningful lives.