Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder that affects about 1% of Americans. People with this brain disorder may often hear voices in their heads. They may believe that others can read their mind, control their thoughts or are out to harm them. They may talk to themselves or sit for hours on end. This disorder cripples their lives and makes them withdrawn or extremely agitated.


Scientists have known for some time that schizophrenia runs in families. The illness occurs in 1% of the general population, but it occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent, brother, or sister. A person with an identical twin diagnosed with schizophrenia is 40-65% more likely to develop this disorder than a average person.

Scientist think that people with schizophrenia have different brain structure and chemistry. They also believe that an imbalance in the complex, interrelated chemical reactions of the brain involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, and possibly others, plays a role in schizophrenia.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Hallucinations: things a person sees, hears, smells, or feel. Many people with schizophrenia hear voices, even multiple voices commenting on their behavior, convincing them to do things, or warning them that they might be in danger. Others with schizophrenia see people or objects that are not really there, smell odors that no one else can, or feel things touching them when in reality no one is touching them
  • Delusions: False beliefs that are not logical such as your neighbor is from another planet and can control your thoughts and actions with magnetic waves
  • Thought disorders: When a person has an unusual or dysfunctional way of thinking
  • Movement disorders: Can appear as agitated body movements. Repeating motions over and over or not moving at all
  • "Flat affect": A person's face does not move or he or she talks in a dull or monotonous voice
  • Lack of pleasure in everyday life
  • Lack of ability to begin and sustain planned activities
  • Speaking little, even when forced to interact
  • Poor "executive functioning":  the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention
  • Problems with "working memory" (the ability to use information immediately after learning it)
  • Trouble focusing or paying attention

Who is at Risk?

Only 1% of Americans have schizophrenia. It occurs in both men and women equally and typically symptoms start to show from ages 16-30. Men tend to experience symptoms a little earlier than women. Most of the time, people do not get schizophrenia after age 45. Schizophrenia rarely occurs in children, but awareness of childhood-onset schizophrenia is increasing.


Most people are treated for Schizophrenia with medication. These medications reduce the symptoms of psychosis and usually allow a person to function more effectively and appropriately. Typical antipsychotic drugs (also called neuroleptic drugs) work by blocking receptors in the brain of the chemical messenger dopamine, which is thought to play a role in schizophrenia.

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