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Early Signs & Symptoms

The first signs of schizophrenia often appear as confusing, or even shocking changes in behavior. Coping with the symptoms of schizophrenia can be especially difficult for family members or friends who remember how involved or outgoing a person was before they became ill.

The sudden onset of severe psychotic symptoms is referred to as an acute phase of schizophrenia. Psychosis -- a common condition in schizophrenia -- is a state of mental impairment marked by hallucinations, which are disturbances of sensory perception, and or delusions, which are false yet strongly held personal beliefs that result from an inability to separate real from unreal experiences. Less obvious symptoms, such as social isolation, or unusual speech, thinking, or behavior, may precede, be seen along with, or follow the psychotic symptoms.

Some people have only one such psychotic episode; others have many episodes during a lifetime, but lead relatively normal lives during the interim periods. However, the individual with chronic schizophrenia, or a continuous or recurring pattern of illness, often does not fully recover normal functioning and typically requires long term treatment, generally including medication, to control the symptoms.

Making A Diagnosis

It’s important to rule out other illnesses, as sometimes people suffer severe mental symptoms or even psychosis due to undetected underlying medical conditions. A medical history, physical examination and lab tests should be done to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms before concluding that a person has schizophrenia. In addition, since commonly abused drugs may cause symptoms resembling schizophrenia, blood or urine samples from the person should be tested.

At times, it’s difficult to tell one mental disorder from another. For instance, some people with symptoms of schizophrenia exhibit prolonged extremes of elated or depressed mood, and it’s important to determine this person has schizophrenia or actually has a bipolar depressive, or disorder or major depressive disorder. Persons whose symptoms cannot be clearly categorized are sometimes diagnosed as having a “schizoaffective disorder.”

(Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

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