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Schizophrenia

How Is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 12:48

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

There are no chemical tests for schizophrenia. Doctors make the diagnosis based on the symptoms and an interview with the individual.

A number of brain imaging techniques are becoming useful in determining if parts of the brain are damaged. These techniques include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses magnets to produce cross-sectional images of the inner brain structure.
  • Single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), which uses a scanner that revolves around the person's head, with multiple detectors to reduce the imaging time.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET), which involves injecting the person with a safe radioactive substance, which travels through the blood vessels to the brain and is picked up by the PET device to create images on film.

For more information about MRI, go to MRI.

Conditions That May Produce Some Symptoms Similar To Schizophrenia

Certain conditions may produce symptoms that can be mistaken for schizophrenia, and they must be ruled out before a diagnosis of schizophrenia can be made. They include:

  • Drug abuse. The use of certain hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or mescaline may cause an individual to see or hear things that are not there.
  • Epilepsy. This disorder causes disturbances in the electrical signaling in the brain and can trigger a seizure, which may be marked by involuntary movement or seeing or hearing things that are not there.
  • Brain tumor. A growth in any area of the brain may cause changes in behavior.
  • Encephalitis. Inflammation of the brain
  • Thyroid disorders. An overactive thyroid may cause too much of the thyroid hormone to be released into the bloodstream. When this happens, a person may seem delirious or apprehensive.
  • Hypoglycemia. If the level of sugar in the blood is low, a person may become lethargic and confused.
  • Wilson's disease. This is a rare hereditary disease characterized by the accumulation of copper in the red blood cells, which affects the brain and can cause dementia.
  • Alzheimer's disease

In addition, many medications have side effects that can mimic some of the symptoms of schizophrenia by causing delusions and severe confusion, particularly in the elderly. And other psychiatric conditions have symptoms similar to schizophrenia.

There are also a number of disorders that are not quite like schizophrenia, but there are some similarities. It is thought that they may be variations of other psychiatric disorders and are classified as 'schizoaffective disorders'.

Schizophrenia