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Schizophrenia is a severe mental disease characterized by unpredictable disturbances in thinking. The word schizophrenia means a splitting of the mind. It refers to the characteristic schizophrenic behaviour of withdrawing from reality and thinking in illogical, confused patterns. The term does not mean that a victim has more than one personality. 

Schizophrenia is one of the most common mental disorders. Most patients develop the disease from their late teens to mid-20's. Men tend to develop it earlier than women and often more severely. 

Many people with schizophrenia develop delusions and behave as though they live in a fantasy world. They may hear "voices" that others cannot hear. The patients may believe that these "voices" carry messages from important people, or even from God. Schizophrenics often suffer disturbances in mood and behaviour. Some patients seem to feel no emotions, but others may display inappropriate emotions, such as laughing at sad situations. Some patients withdraw from their family and friends and talk mainly to themselves or to their "voices." 

Doctors do not know the cause of schizophrenia. Genetic factors may be partly responsible for some cases. Abnormal brain chemistry also plays a role. Certain chemicals called neurotransmitters, which allow nerve cells to communicate with each other, have been found to be at abnormal levels in some people with schizophrenia. 

Before the 1950's, most people suffering from schizophrenia had to remain in mental hospitals. Since then, scientists have developed drugs that block the action of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, on certain nerve cells. In most cases, these drugs do not cure schizophrenia, but they usually reduce the symptoms so that most patients can leave the hospital. In addition, psychotherapy and rehabilitation programmes can help patients live outside the hospital. A small number of patients do not respond to treatment and must remain hospitalized.


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