By Stephanie Marsh-Walker
University of Phoenix
Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder. Like many other illnesses, schizophrenia is believed to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. All the tools of modern science are being used to search for the causes of this disorder.
The term schizophrenia is Greek in origin, and in the Greek meant "split mind." This is not an accurate medical term. In Western culture, some people have come to believe that schizophrenia refers to a split-personality disorder. These are two very different disorders, and people with schizophrenia do not have separate personalities. (Pinel, 2007).
Schizophrenia is a complex and puzzling illness. Even the experts in the field are not exactly sure what causes it. Some doctors think that the brain may not be able to process information correctly; and it is believed that genetic factors appear to play a role, as people who have family members with schizophrenia may be more likely to get the disease themselves. Some researchers believe that events in a person's environment may trigger schizophrenia. For example, problems during intrauterine development (infection) and birth may increase the risk for developing schizophrenia later in life; and psychological and social factors may also play some role in its development. However, the level of social and familial support appears to influence the course of illness and may be protective against relapse. (Schizophrenia, 1996-2006).
No single characteristic is present in all types of schizophrenia. The risk factors include a family history of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is thought to affect about 1% of the population worldwide. Schizophrenia is usually diagnosed in people aged 17-35 years.
The diagnosis of schizophrenia is made based on a thorough psychiatric interview of the person and family members. As yet, there are no defining medical tests for schizophrenia. The following factors may suggest a schizophrenia diagnosis, but do not confirm it: Developmental background; Genetic and family history; Changes from level of functioning prior to illness; Course of illness and duration of symptoms; and Response to pharmacological therapy. (Web MD, 2005-2008). The areas of the brain implicated in schizophrenia are the forebrain, hindbrain, and limbic system; and it is thought that schizophrenia may be caused by a disruption in some of the functional circuits in the brain, rather than a single abnormality in one part of the brain. Although the brain areas involved in this circuit have not been defined, the frontal lobe, temporal lobe, limbic system, and the thalamus are thought to be involved. The cerebellum also appears to be affected in people with schizophrenia. (Pinel, 2007).
Neurotransmitter functionality is also believed to have influence in the development of schizophrenia. The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia postulates that schizophrenia is caused by an overactive dopamine system in the brain; excessive dopamine and reduced activity can disrupt all aspects of motor, cognitive and emotional functioning and can result in an acute schizophrenic psychosis. An excessive dopamine concentration in the brain of people with a schizophrenic disorder was originally thought to be associated with increased activity of dopamine receptors in the prefrontal cortex. Recent studies indicate that reduced numbers of dopamine receptors may contribute to the rise in dopamine concentration. Other neurotransmitters, including serotonin, glutamate, gamma aminobutyric acid, and acetylcholine may also be involved in schizophrenia. (Reichenberg & Harvey, 2008). Several structural changes are found in the brains of people with schizophrenia, most of which occur in the forebrain. Reductions in the volume of gray matter in the frontal lobe, and decreased brain volume and activity, have been repeatedly noted among...