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In my last article, I highlighted the general facets of the mental illness schizophrenia, including risk, symptoms, and behaviors. This week, I will delve deeper into potential causes of this disorder as well as the plethora of treatment options available for patients.

As mentioned in part one, the direct causes of schizophrenia have yet to be determined. However, many experts support the notion of a link between genes and environmental conditions. In terms of genetic predisposition, the risk of developing schizophrenia is highest among individuals with a schizophrenic identical twin, followed by ones with a parent or sibling suffering from the disorder, and finally those who have a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or cousin with schizophrenia.

Although there is no single specific gene that results in schizophrenia, some studies suggest that rare genetic mutations may play a role. In terms of environment, conditions such as fetal exposure to viruses or malnutrition are also believed to have an impact.

Prescription medications are a significant part of schizophrenia treatment. Source: Tetra Images

Additionally, similar to other mental illnesses, schizophrenia is often attributed to chemical imbalances in the brain, specifically involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate. In some cases, physical characteristics of the brain appear different between healthy and schizophrenic individuals—for example, the latter may have larger central brain cavities and unusually high or low activity in various regions.

Routine treatment of schizophrenia lasts a lifetime and often requires maintenance even after symptoms diminish. Prescription medications usually include some form of anti psychotics; however, the variety of these drugs has increased drastically as a result of medical advances. They tend to be categorized in one of two ways: conventional, or “typical” antipsychotics, or second generation, or “atypical” anti psychotics. In general, conventional medications tend to be cheaper than the atypical ones, but they have also been shown to have more serious side effects. These effects often impact physical movement and can ultimately cause tardive dyskinesia (TD), a disorder characterized by uncontrollable muscle movement. For this reason, it is critical to speak with a medical professional before deciding on a course of action.

Schizophrenia is a very complex mental illness that continues to be studied today. Until more concrete causes are established, exploring every possible coping mechanism is key to living with this disorder.

Feature Image Source: Pills by Jamie

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