Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

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According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.4 million schizophrenics live in America. Moreover, it is estimated that 1 percent of the entire population of the world is schizophrenic. This is a mental illness that can incapacitate or even kill a person. Although the causes of schizophrenia are not entirely known, scientists think that genetics is a major factor in the development and progression of the illness.

Warning

  • It can be very difficult to diagnose schizophrenia, as it acts like other mental illnesses. Also, people with brain injuries or brain tumors can start behaving like schizophrenics, so don't use the information outline here to diagnose yourself or a loved one. Tests needed to diagnose schizophrenia include a physical exam, an MRI of the brain to check for injuries or tumors, and a blood test. Often, the patient has to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist for more tests. Therefore, for the purposes of genetics studies, it can be hard to determine who in the family actually has schizophrenia.

Features

  • Symptoms of schizophrenia include, but are not limited to, paranoia, hallucinations, trouble understanding or speaking a native language, religious mania, sudden bizarre behaviors such as setting a room on fire and sitting to watch the flames, inability to take care of oneself, and problems with long-term and short-term memory. Schizophrenics often attempt suicide, although sometimes sufferers kill themselves by thinking they are suddenly invulnerable to anything. They also often abuse tobacco, alcohol or drugs.

Time Frame

  • Symptoms usually do not appear until the late teen years, although--rarely--some children are also diagnosed as schizophrenic. The average patient is between 18 and 55 years old. An episode where a schizophrenic loses touch with reality and has to be hospitalized can last an average of 6 months. Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, it can sometimes be managed. Because the symptoms appear so unpredictably, it can be difficult to trace family lines with schizophrenia or to determine if a schizophrenic patient has had one or more schizophrenic parents. Scientists have to look at the entire life of a child from a schizophrenic parent to determine if the schizophrenia was passed on.

Size

  • If you have a close relative (parent or sibling) with schizophrenia, you have a 10 percent chance of also developing schizophrenia. In identical twins, the chances are much higher, at 40 to 65 percent.

Theories/Speculation

  • In July of 2008, a study came out looking at the genetic causes of schizophrenia (see Resources below). So far, it looks as if there are three kinds of genetic material (microdeletions) present in non-schizophrenics and lacking in schizophrenics, and it's thought that this factor can make a person more prone to developing schizophrenia, but may not be the actual cause. These microdeletions do seem to run in families. Other factors thought to combine together with these genes include problems with brain chemistry, injuries to the brain during birth that leave the brain smaller than normal, and traumatic or very stressful events.

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