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When people hear the word schizophrenia, it can make them think of a lot of things—many of which are not true.

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that may affect the way you think, behave, and experience things. It is not anyone's fault. It doesn't develop because of something that you or someone else did. It is not a personal weakness or flaw. It affects people of all races and both genders, and cuts across all social and economic classes.

About 1 in every 100 people has this illness, and it affects more than 2 million Americans.


What causes schizophrenia?

The cause of schizophrenia is not known, but experts think that several factors may be involved:

  • A person's genes (family history): Scientists have long known that schizophrenia runs in families. It occurs in 1% of the general population, but it occurs in 10% of people who have a parent, brother, or sister with the illness.
  • Biology (brain chemistry and structure): Scientists think an imbalance in chemical reactions involving some of the brain's neurotransmitters (substances that allow brain cells to communicate with each other) may play a role.
  • Environmental factors: Studies have shown that environmental factors may play a role in causing schizophrenia.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Symptoms of schizophrenia are often separated into two general groups, called positive symptoms and negative symptoms.

Positive symptoms—Traits or behaviors that develop as a result of schizophrenia include:

  • Hallucinations—Hearing voices, seeing, feeling, or smelling things that are not actually there
  • Delusions—Believing things that are not real or true
  • Disorganized speech and behavior—Difficulty organizing thoughts, remembering things, or keeping several ideas in mind at the same time
  • Paranoia—Believing people or things are trying to harm you or are out to get you

Negative symptoms—Traits or behaviors that are reduced due to schizophrenia include:

  • Limited emotional expression (also called a “flat affect”)—A person's face does not move or he or she talks in a dull or monotonous voice
  • Lack of motivation—Difficulty starting and following through with activities
  • Limited speech—Speaking little, even when forced to interact
  • Paranoia—Believing people or things are trying to harm you or are out to get you
  • Lack of pleasure in everyday life

Next: Treating Schizophrenia

The symptoms of schizophrenia may be managed with ongoing treatment.
More >

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