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Schizophrenia

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious, complex brain disorder. It often runs in families and can cause troubling symptoms. These may include hearing voices, and having trouble thinking clearly and relating to others. It often starts suddenly in early adulthood. There is no cure for this illness. But it can be managed with medicine and supportive therapy.

What causes schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. It may also be caused by genetics (hereditary) and environment. This includes exposure to viruses or malnutrition before birth. Some studies suggest that the use of mind-altering drugs in teen years and young adulthood may increase the risk of schizophrenia.

This disorder affects men and women the same. But symptoms tend to start earlier in men than in women. It’s rare in childhood.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia?

Each person may feel symptoms differently. These are the most common symptoms:

  • False beliefs not based on reality (delusions)

  • Seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that are not real (hallucinations)

  • Disorganized speech and behavior

  • Lack of emotion

  • Feeling like someone or something is out to get them (paranoia)

  • Withdrawal from others

  • Inflated self-worth

These symptoms can make it very hard to function in the world and take care of yourself. People with this illness are usually not violent.

The symptoms of schizophrenia may seem like other problems or mental health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed?

To diagnose this disease, your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and symptoms. You may also have a physical exam. You may also have lab tests to rule out other conditions.

Mental healthcare providers diagnose and treat this illness. They often interview family members. This helps the healthcare team get a complete picture of the symptoms.

How is schizophrenia treated?

Managing schizophrenia is a lifelong process. It can’t be cured. But symptoms can often be managed with medicine and therapy. Often, more than 1 medicine and therapy method is needed. Types of treatment that may be helpful include:

  • Antipsychotic medicines. These are the main medicines used to reduce the most troubling symptoms. These include delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.

  • Other medicines. These may include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or anti-anxiety medicines.

  • Therapy. Individual and family therapy (including cognitive and behavioral therapy).

  • Education. These may include learning social skills, job skills, or structured activity.

  • Self-help and support groups. These can help both you and your family members.

Early treatment and supportive services helps affected people live productive lives. It’s very important to take medicines exactly as prescribed. And to keep taking them even if you feel better. Many people may still have some symptoms, even with treatment. At times, symptoms may get worse and treatment will need to be adjusted. Ongoing treatment and follow-up in a supportive environment can help maintain emotional stability. It can also provide a critical safety net if symptoms become unmanageable.

Always see your healthcare provider for more information.

Living with schizophrenia

When you have schizophrenia, it's very important to have ongoing mental healthcare and take care of yourself. Below are some suggestions for good self-care:

  • Stay away from drugs and alcohol.  Using alcohol or drugs can make it harder to treat this illness. They will also interact with your prescription medicines. This can cause unwanted, and sometimes dangerous, side effects.

  • Take your medicine as prescribed. If you have side effects, contact your healthcare provider right away so the medicine can be adjusted or changed. Never just stop taking your medicines. This can be dangerous. Ask your provider about help if you have trouble paying for the medicine. Many medicine companies have special programs that help people pay for their medicine. Never use another person's medicine. Don't buy your medicine from someone on the street.

  • Get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep can make symptoms worse.

  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly.  These can help reduce symptoms, help you sleep well, and keep stress from affecting you.

  • Manage stress.  Stress can make symptoms worse. Learn ways to keep it under control.

  • Find help right away.  Call your healthcare provider if you notice a change or increase in symptoms or have bad medicine side effects. Doing so can help prevent a relapse. Educate family members or friends about what symptoms to watch for. Ask them to alert you if they see these symptoms so you can take action.

  • Keep up with trusted treatment resources . Ongoing treatment and follow-up in a supportive environment can help you stay emotionally stable. It can also provide a critical safety net if symptoms become hard to manage. Thorough care includes psychotherapy, medicine management, case management, employment and education support, and family education and support.

Call 988 in a crisis

Call or text 988 or get care right away if you have suicidal ideas or thoughts of harming others. When you call or text 988, you will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat choice is also available at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also call Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). Lifeline is free and available 24/7.

Key points about schizophrenia

  • Schizophrenia is a serious, complex brain disorder. It often runs in families and can cause troubling symptoms.

  • It’s caused by a chemical imbalance and other changes in the brain.

  • Early treatment and ongoing, life-long supportive services helps people with schizophrenia live productive lives.

  • Symptoms include hearing voices, feeling that people are out to get you, and having false beliefs that are not based in reality.

  • These symptoms can make it very hard to function in the world and take care of yourself.

  • Treatment includes antipsychotic medicines, therapy, support services, and a healthy lifestyle.

  • Get supportive care as soon as medicine side effects appear or when symptoms get worse. Or if you have new symptoms.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are and when they should be reported.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions, especially after office hours or on weekends.

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