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page 2.  Schizophrenia:  Understanding the Disorder:




                What Is Schizophrenia ?


        Evidence indicates strongly that schizophrenia is a severe disturbance in the brain’s functioning.  It’s caused by many factors - including changes in the chemistry of the brain, changes in the structure of the brain, and genetic factors.


        There are billions of nerve cells in the brain.  Each nerve cell has branches that send and receive messages from other nerve cells.  Neurotransmitters, chemicals released from these branches, carry the message from the end of nerve branch to the cell body of another.  In the brain of a person with schizophrenia, something goes wrong in this communication system..


        Over time, researchers have recognized that two neurotransmitters,  Dopamine (dough-pa-meen) and Serotonin (se-row-toe-nin)  in particular, have roles to play in schizophrenia.  Evidence has accumulated that suggests dopamine is very important.  In the brain afflicted with schizophrenia, it appears as though there is too much of this chemical in certain areas of the brain.  New evidence show that abnormalities in serotonin activity also play an important role in the illness.


                Where does schizophrenia begin ?


        This disorder generally strikes young people for the first time in the late teens or early twenties.  Some  people develop schizophrenia later in life, but this is not typical.  It occurs in all  races, cultures, social classes and both sexes.  There important male-female differences in the disorder, with schizophrenia generally occurring in earlier in males, and later in females – but this is not a rule.


                The onset and early symptoms:


        For some people, the disorder advances so gradually that they and their family are not aware for a long time that they are ill.  This is referred to as gradual-onset schizophrenia.  A gradual build-up of symptoms may or may not lead to an acute or crisis episode – a short and intense period that involves delusions (ex. Believing someone is trying to harm them), hallucinations (ex. Hearing voices), distorted thinking (ex. Blocked or jumbled thoughts), and an altered sense of self (ex. Alterations in body sensations).


        In some cases, however, schizophrenia may strike quickly, with individuals experiencing dramatic behaviour changes in a matter of a few weeks or even days.  This is referred to as rapid or sudden-onset.  For these people, an acute episode usually follows.  In each case, medical treatment should be sought.


        A person with schizophrenia may suffer from very few episodes in their life;  others have more.  And some people are able to lead relatively “normal” lives between episodes.  Unfortunately, after each acute episode a patient suffers, the chronic symptoms of the disorder may increase, making it more and more difficult for the person to function normally.  It’s important, therefore, to try to avoid relapses.  This can be encouraged by following the prescribed treatment and therapy set up  by the physician and family.