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What Are The Symptoms Of Schizophrenia?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - 12:49

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

In schizophrenia, the world appears changed. Familiar things like colors, sounds, or tastes may appear altered in a strange way. The brain receives information from the senses but interprets it in an abnormal fashion.

The symptoms of schizophrenia vary from one person to another, and they can appear either gradually or suddenly. At first, symptoms may include mild feelings of tension, inability to sleep or concentrate, and a loss of interest in school, work, or friends.

As the illness progresses, people with schizophrenia experience symptoms that include psychosis, which is a general term for a number of major psychiatric illnesses in which a person incorrectly evaluates the accuracy of his or her perceptions and thoughts and makes incorrect conclusions about reality.

These symptoms, which may come and go in cycles, include:

Symptoms of schizophrenia in children are different from symptoms in adults.

Need To Know:

Understanding the terms

  • Delusions - False ideas about oneself or one's life, such as believing one is a famous person.
  • Hallucinations - Seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling something that doesn't really exist.
  • Illusions - False interpretations of an external sensory stimulus, usually seen or heard, such as a mirage in the desert or voices on the wind.
  • Psychosis - A general term for a number of major psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, in which a person incorrectly evaluates the accuracy of his or her perceptions and thoughts and makes incorrect conclusions about reality. Hallucinations and delusions are psychotic symptoms.

Hallucinations And Illusions

Hallucinations and illusions are disturbances of perception that are common in people with schizophrenia.

  • Hallucinations are perceptions that occur without connection to an appropriate source and can occur in any sensory form - sound, sight, touch, taste, and smell.
  • Illusions occur when a sensory stimulus is present but is incorrectly interpreted by the individual. For example, a person may be convinced there are voices in the wind.

The most common type of hallucination is hearing imaginary voices that give commands, make comments, or warn of impending danger. The person experiences these voices talking to them as "he" or "she" (third-person auditory hallucinations).

Some people may think they see, feel, taste, or smell something that doesn't really exist.


Delusions are false ideas about oneself or one's life. People with schizophrenia may believe they are being conspired against, or that they are a famous or important individual. These false beliefs are held with absolute certainty, dominating in the person's mind.

Typical experiences are of thoughts being taken out of one's head or inserted into one's mind. These delusions can be bizarre (for example, invisible creatures entering a room through an electrical outlet) or non-bizarre (for example, a paranoid belief in being spied on).

Disordered Thinking

People with schizophrenia may find it difficult to think and reason clearly. In conversation, they may jump from one topic to another without making much sense. They also may make up their own words or sounds.

A person's speech can become incoherent because of the disjointed way in which thoughts are processed. Some people will connect words because of similarity of sound rather than by meaning (known as "clang" association).

Lack Of Emotional Expression

People with schizophrenia may not show the signs of normal emotion. This can include speaking in a monotonous voice, having diminished facial expressions, and appearing to be extremely apathetic.

Inappropriate Reactions

People with schizophrenia may react with inappropriate behavior to certain circumstances. For example, they may laugh hysterically over a sad event.

Need To Know:

If schizophrenia is suspected, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. The earlier schizophrenia is detected and treated, the better the outcome. Studies have shown that individuals who are treated during their first episode are hospitalized less frequently during the next five years than those who do not seek help as quickly.

Need To Know:

Q: Are people with schizophrenia likely to be violent?

A: The media tends to link mental illness such as schizophrenia with criminal violence. But the fact is that most people with schizophrenia are not violent; they are much more likely to be withdrawn. People with schizophrenia are not especially prone to violence. When violence does occur, it usually takes place at home and is directed at family members and friends.

Symptoms Of Schizophrenia In Children

The behavior of children and teens with schizophrenia is different from that of adults with this illness. It is rare for symptoms to develop before age 12. Schizophrenic behavior develops gradually in children and may begin with children talking about strange fears or ideas.

Early warning signs of schizophrenia in children include:

  • Trouble distinguishing dreams from reality
  • Confusing television or movies with reality
  • Seeing things and hearing voices that are not real
  • Confused thinking
  • Extreme moodiness
  • A belief that people are "out to get them"
  • Behaving younger than one's age
  • Severe anxiety and fearfulness
  • Severe problems in making and keeping friends

Need To Know:

Suicide is a serious danger in people with schizophrenia. About 10 percent of people with schizophrenia commit suicide. Young adult males are at highest risk. If a person with schizophrenia mentions suicide or seems suicidal, contact the doctor immediately.

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