Is Schizophrenia a disorder?

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Schizophrenia is a very serious debilitating mental illness affecting around 1% of the population. It is characterised by hallucinations and delusions, bizarre behaviour, disordered thinking and irrational beliefs. It can be devastating for the individual and their families as the person with Schizophrenia loses touch with reality and cannot differentiate between what experiences are real and what are not.

The term Schizophrenia was first used by a Swiss Psychiatrist by the name of Eugen Bleuler in the early 1900s. The word comes from the Greek Schizo meaning split and Phrene meaning mind. This has led to a lot of confusion as people think that Schizophrenia means split personality, this is not the case at all.

Although Schizophrenia has been known and recognised for quite some time, and we have made advances, the condition itself and what causes it is still shrouded in mystery.

What we do know is that there is no single cause of schizophrenia but there is a genetic tendency towards schizophrenia as it tends to fun in families. If you have a close relative with the condition then you are more likely to develop schizophrenia than someone who does not. Scientists are continuing to study the genetic element and it would appear that chromosomes 13 and 6 have been implicated but there is still no hard and fast evidence to confirm this.

Other possible causes include chemical imbalances, maybe involving the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, or possibly a physical abnormality in the brain.

Advances in brain imaging technology have enabled scientists to study the brain and how it functions in people who are actually living with various conditions as opposed to studying the brain in a laboratory after death. For example, when a person with schizophrenia hears voices, they will often attribute these voices to an external source and think that the voices are talking to them whereas studies have shown that whilst hearing these voices there is a huge amount of activity in the Broca area which is the part of the brain involved in producing speech, not actually hearing speech.

Other studies have indicated that there are some slight changes in the brain cells in people with Schizophrenia and that these changes may actually take place whilst the brain is developing indicating that schizophrenia could possibly be a disorder of brain development perhaps even during early pregnancy.

The bottom line is that no one yet knows for sure what causes schizophrenia and whether it is one disorder or indeed a range of disorders as many different factors appear to be involved. However, scientists have come a long way in recent years and with ever more advances in technology, this trend looks set to continue and more insights into this condition will be revealed in the coming months and years.

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