Potential Causes of Schizophrenia

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According to the World Health Organization, around 26 million people suffer from schizophrenia and one in 100 people will suffer from a schizophrenic episode during their lifetime. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, chances are you may feel confused on how this happened and what you could’ve done to prevent it. The reality is that although schizophrenia may have certain triggers, most of what causes schizophrenia is largely hereditary.

Current scientific research offers a window into the disease, what may trigger it, and how doctors may be able to come up with effective treatments in the future.

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex mental disease. There is no test to determine whether someone is schizophrenic or not. It is characterized by having hallucinations, being unable to determine what is real versus what is not real, being unable to think clearly or act appropriately in social situations, and holding irrational beliefs. People who suffer from schizophrenia usually have their first episode in their teens or early twenties. Even so, a person can suffer from schizophrenia any time in their life. About 1 percent of the population has schizophrenia.

The Genetic Link

Although about 1 percent of the population has schizophrenia, the risk of developing schizophrenia is higher if you have a relative who has schizophrenia. People who have a close family member who has the disorder has a 10 percent chance of developing the disorder, themselves. If you are an identical twin whose twin has schizophrenia, the chance of developing the disorder can be as high as 65 percent.

More than One Disorder

In the past, scientists believed that the genetic component of schizophrenia made up about 80 percent of the disorder, but it has been difficult to pinpoint the genes responsible. A recent study at the Washington University School of Medicine determined that schizophrenia isn’t one disease, but is most likely eight disorders caused by different sets of genes.

Although how these genes cause the symptoms of schizophrenia are still unknown, the discovery has opened the door to potential treatments that will hopefully pinpoint the type of schizophrenia and come up with an effective treatment.

Environmental Triggers to Schizophrenia

Scientists believe that there are environmental factors that may affect the onset of schizophrenia. These include:

  • Difficult birth
  • Exposure to toxoplasmosis parasite
  • Mother being ill or with the flu while pregnant
  • Maternal and fetal Rh blood incompatibility
  • High stress level growing up
  • Child abuse
  • Essential fatty acid deficiencies
  • Head injury
  • Celiac disease
  • Drug use, in particular, marijuana

Note that these factors appear to be higher in schizophrenics and may help trigger schizophrenia in individuals but they are not necessarily causes.

Does this mean that if you do not have the genes for schizophrenia, the triggers are unlikely to cause the disorder? Chances are, that is true, but until more research is done, we cannot make those assumptions.

In many ways, we are only beginning to understand mental illness disorders. And, each advance in our understanding gives us better tools to treat, diagnose and even predict mental illness. Recent studies of DNA now give stronger indications than ever that the cause of schizophrenia and a number of other mental health disorders may be, in part, genetic.

Schizophrenia has a high hereditary factor; this has led many researchers to believe that the disorder could have a genetic link. Researchers from the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard recently identified over 100 genes that could play a role on schizophrenia. Scientists are still untangling what the role of these genes are. Some, as expected, were related to the brain chemical dopamine. Others, however, involve the immune system. Still others were associated with behaviors like heavy smoking. It is currently theorized that the genes in question may play more than one role; for instance, affecting the immune system in one way and the brain in another.

Other evidence of schizophrenia’s genetic factors comes from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium, formed in 2007. Since that time, the group has analyzed DNA from 33,000 patients who suffer from maladies that include schizophrenia, autism, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Their work identified a number of genes that are shared by people diagnosed with these disorders. The scientists have developed a theory that these disorders may be linked or may even be different expressions of a single disorder.

Two of the genes identified work to control the movement of calcium in and out of brain cells, which is related to how brain cells communicate with one another. Scientists theorize that the changes in movement could, depending on other environmental factors, eventually lead to mental illness.

While theories about the causes of mental illness like schizophrenia are continuing to be developed, here at Pasadena Villa, we employ the most up to date treatments in a safe and caring environment. Our unique social integration model immerses patients into real life activities to help them develop the tools for life outside a treatment facility. Patients live in a warm and therapeutic atmosphere to regain control of their lives and develop social and communication skills. Contact us today if you or a family member would benefit from our unique residential mental health care.

The Villa Orlando and Pasadena Villa’s Smoky Mountain Lodge are adult intensive psychiatric residential treatment centers for clients with serious mental illnesses. We also provide other individualized therapy programs, step-down residential programs, and less intensive mental health services, such as Community Residential Homes, Supportive Housing, Day Treatment Programs and Life Skills training. Pasadena Villa’s Outpatient Center in Raleigh, North Carolina offers partial hospitalization (PHP) and an intensive outpatient program (PHP). If you or someone you know may need mental health services, please complete our contact form or call us at 407-574-5190 for more information.


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