How Is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?
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How is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?
There is currently no physical or lab test that can absolutely diagnose schizophrenia – a psychiatrist usually comes to the diagnosis based on clinical symptoms. What physical testing can do is rule out a lot of other conditions (seizure disorders, metabolic disorders, thyroid disfunction, brain tumor, street drug use, etc) that sometimes have similar symptoms.
Current research is evaluating possible physical diagnostic tests (such as a blood test for schizophrenia, special IQ tests for identifying schizophrenia, eye-tracking, brain imaging, smell tests, etc), but these are still in trial stages at only a few universities and companies and are not yet widely used. It will likely be a few years before these on the market, and adopted by hospitals, etc.
People diagnosed with schizophrenia usually experience a combination of positive (i.e. hallucinations, delusions, racing thoughts), negative (i.e. apathy, lack of emotion, poor or nonexistant social functioning), and cognitive (disorganized thoughts, difficulty concentrating and/or following instructions, difficulty completing tasks, memory problems). Please refer to the information available on this page (see below) for common signs and symptoms, as well as consumer/family stories of how they identified schizophrenia in their own experiences. However, only a psychiatrist can make a diagnosis and start a treatment program. If you are experiencing symptoms are bothersome, debilitating, or harmful, please to to an early psychosis diagnosis and treatment center or make an appointment with your doctor and/or a psychiatrist.
The First Steps Towards Proper Diagnosis
The first step in getting treatment for schizophrenia is getting a correct diagnosis. This is important to do quickly because research has shown that the sooner you get diagnosed and treated, the better the long-term outcome (which is the same for all serious illnesses). This can be a more difficult than it might seem, because the symptoms of schizophrenia can be similar at times to other major brain disorders, such as bipolar disorder (manic-epression) or even major depression. Another issue is that a person with schizophrenia may be paranoid or believe that nothing is wrong with them, and therefore may not want to go to see a doctor. Because many regular family doctors may not be very familiar with schizophrenia, it is important to see a good psychiatrist that is experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia.
The best place for proper diagnosis of psychosis (hallucinations & delusions) and schizophrenia – are at the increasing number of centers focused on early diagnosis and treatment of psychosis and schizophrenia. See the following list to find out if there is one in your area: Worldwide list of early psychosis/schizophrenia diagnosis and treatment clinics.
Another way to do find a good psychiatrist is to contact a local support group that deals with brain disorders such as schizophrenia, and talk to the other members that already have experience with the local psychiatrists. If that is not convenient, we recommend you join in our discussion areas (see “parents” area or “Main Area” listed on home page) and ask there if anyone can recommend a good psychiatrist in your area. Local members may be able to recommend a good psychiatrist experienced in schizophenia that they have worked with.
See our FAQ guide, with sections on finding and working with a good psychiatrist. This is a vital part of the treatment and recovery process, as research and anecdotal evidence both confirm that a good patient-doctor relationship can be important for enhancing treament compliance.
If you have a family history of schizophrenia, psychiatric illness, or other serious conditions in your family, it can be a great help to the doctor if you create a Health Family Tree that tracks such diseases through family generations. Having a family health history in front of them can help providers decide which diagnostic and screening tests are most appropriate for you or your loved one. Create your own Health Family Tree with this free, web-based software (provided by the Health and Human Services Dept).
As with most serious illnesses, its important to get diagnosis and treatment as quickly as possible. Getting treatment early can significantly improve an individuals chances at a partial or complete recovery by preventing further brain damage or other damage caused by the disease symptoms. More information on the importance of early diagnosis and treatment
The Common Symptoms of Schizophrenia
* The First Signs of Schizophrenia – Personal Stories
o A comprehensive list of early signs – compiled by a schizophrenia.com member. Note: please use as a reference only, not as a diagnostic tool. Only a doctor can diagnose schizophrenia, or any other psychiatric disorder. Many of the common signs/symptoms are also present in healthy people, usually to a lesser degree.
* The Importance of Keeping a Journal – For best diagnosis and recovery of person with schizophrenia
* Early Predictions of Schizophrenia are Possible (BBC News, January 05)
* Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is characterized by profound disruption in cognition and emotion, affecting the most fundamental human attributes: language, thought, perception, affect, and sense of self. The array of symptoms, while wide ranging, frequently includes psychotic manifestations, such as hearing internal voices or experiencing other sensations not connected to an obvious source (hallucinations) and assigning unusual significance or meaning to normal events or holding fixed false personal beliefs (delusions). No single symptom is definitive for diagnosis; rather, the diagnosis encompasses a pattern of signs and symptoms, in conjunction with impaired occupational or social functioning (Source: DSM-IV -available for purchase on Amazon.com Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR).
Symptoms are typically divided into positive and negative symptoms because of their impact on diagnosis and treatment. Positive symptoms are those that appear to reflect an excess or distortion of normal functions. The diagnosis of schizophrenia, according to DSM-IV, requires at least 1-month duration of two or more positive symptoms, unless hallucinations or delusions are especially bizarre, in which case