It could happen to you, your best friend, or anyone. It is a disease that causes hallucinations, delirium, and distorts the senses. People who have this disease can’t trust their senses, and it is very difficult for them to tell what’s real and what’s not. This disease usually strikes down young between the ages of 16 and 25, when they are in their prime. This disease is called schizophrenia and it is a very real and very scary mental disease with treatment available.
What causes schizophrenia? Scientists believe that schizophrenia is caused by a neurochemical imbalance. Studies are being conducted on three different neurotransmitters; dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters they direct communication between brain cells. Using different medical scanning techniques (PET scans), scientists are able to see what areas of the brain are activated during certain activities. They found that people with schizophrenia have problems directing activity in different parts of their brains. They also found that schizophrenic people have an irregular pattern of brain cells. This can mean that either this is “caused” before birth or that this indicates a predisposition to the disease later in life. However, scientists still haven’t found a gene that they believe causes schizophrenia. But, it is widely believed that there is a genetic inheritance present.
Schizophrenia is different for every person. Someone might have only one episode their entire life. Some might have more frequent episodes, but lead perfectly normal lives in between. Others could have frequent, persistent, and severe episodes all their lives. People who have this disease can go through personality changes. For example, they might withdraw from society or have inappropriate emotions (laugh at something sad, cry at something funny, etc). One of the most profound changes is the change in thought and rationalization. They might start having delusions with no logical reasons. They might also have hallucinations, like hearing voices. Other symptoms can seem unrelated unless they occur at the same times. Such as depression, inappropriate laughter, hyper activity, inactivity, drug or alcohol abuse, self mutilation, or rigid stubbornness.
In the early 40s and 50s, schizophrenia was treated with electroconvulsive shock therapy (aka ECT or just "shock therapy") or insulin shock therapy. However, these treatments were abandoned in favor of medication. Different antipsychotic medications have been used to treat the disease. Up until more recently, the most popular medications were Thorazine, Mellaril, Modecate, Prolixin, Navane, Stelazine, and Haldol. However, these medications can have many different side effects.
The more popular drugs today include Risperidone, Clozapine, Olanzapine, and Quetiapine. These medications have fewer side effects then the older ones. Risperidone (Risperdal) is now seen as one of the first lines of defense for newly diagnosed patients. Clozapine (Clozaril) is popular because 1/3 of patients with treatment resistant schizophrenia show improvement with this drug. Olanzapine (Zyprexa) is another very promising drug showing good signs of efficiency with a low rate of side effects. Quetiapine (Seroquel) is a more recent drug with a high efficiency rate and low side effect rate similar to Olanzapine. While these drugs are better than the older ones, side effects still exist and patients must be closely monitored to ensure proper treatment.