Schizophrenia is a type of mental disorder that commonly appears in early adulthood or early adolescence, but it can still emerge at any point during an individual’s life.
The condition has multiple subtypes, but all feature some combination of delusions, personality changes, confusion, aggression, erratic behavior, and psychosis. Paranoid schizophrenia is the most common way the condition presents itself and is typically characterized by delusions about being plotted against.
Symptoms of Paranoid Schizophrenia
In many cases, the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia start around the age of 20. It is rare for them to start after age 45, but it does happen. Like most forms of schizophrenia, symptoms revolve around disorders with thinking, behavior, or emotions to a severe enough degree that they impair a person’s ability to function:
- Delusions: For paranoid schizophrenics, the most notable symptom is the delusion or false belief that they are being persecuted, harassed, or plotted against. These delusions can be about a specific individual or group or more generalized, such as believing that certain gestures or comments bystanders make are insults. Paranoid schizophrenia sometimes presents itself with what is known as a “delusion of grandeur” as well. The person may believe they have great significance or power and this perceived status is sometimes used to explain why the person is being persecuted.
- Hallucinations: Auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) are known to present in cases of paranoid schizophrenia. Visual hallucinations can sometimes happen, but this is not a common occurrence in this specific form of the disorder. Among adolescents, hallucinations are more likely to happen than delusions.
- Emotional symptoms: People with paranoid schizophrenia are prone to periods of intense anxiety and agitation. They can also become highly irritable and prone to violent or otherwise strong bouts of rage and possibly violence. Despite this, outright mood swings are not as common in this form of schizophrenia.
- Obsessive behavior: The repeated belief of being persecuted or harassed can cause someone affected by paranoid schizophrenia to take elaborate means of protecting themselves. They may also spend a disproportionate amount of time dwelling on methods of protection.
- Negative symptoms: This is the term used to refer to a reduction in normal function or ability. Schizophrenia can present itself with the apparent loss of emotion, speaking without inflection or normal gestures or facial expressions. It can also reduce the ability to plan or carry out activities such as hygiene, cause social withdrawal, and the loss of pleasure. Negative symptoms are not as common in cases of paranoid schizophrenia compared to other types but are still possible.
Causes and Risk Factors for Paranoid Schizophrenia
No one knows specifically what causes the various forms of schizophrenia but it is assumed to be a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. One of the prevailing theories is that an imbalance of neurotransmitter levels, like dopamine or serotonin, are involved. Although an exact cause has yet to be identified, there are certain risk factors that have been associated with higher incidences of paranoid schizophrenia. These are:
- Genetics: If a family member has schizophrenia you have a roughly 10% higher risk of developing the disorder yourself. However, 60% of schizophrenia cases aren’t associated with family history.
- Viruses in the womb: Being exposed to certain viruses in the womb, being deprived of nutrients while in the womb, or low oxygen during birth.
- Emotional issues: Early behavioral and emotional issues such as being bad-tempered, anxious, unfocused, and experiencing relationship problems are associated with higher incidences of paranoid schizophrenia. It is unknown if this link is due to the issues influencing the later development of schizophrenia or if the issues are manifestations of the latent disorder.
- Abuse: Childhood abuse or trauma.
- Elderly parents: Older parents have a higher rate of children who develop schizophrenia.
- Drugs: Certain mind-altering drugs (legal or illegal) are associated with risks of developing schizophrenia.
Treating Paranoid Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is treatable, but not curable. Even the most successful cases will have periods where their symptoms resurface and are hard to control, but ideally these periods will be at a minimum. It is possible to have a fulfilling, successful life as a result of getting timely and effective treatment. Schizophrenia treatments involve a combination of the following aids:
- Medication: Antipsychotic drugs are typically used to help control the delusions and hallucinations that schizophrenia can present itself with. Some antipsychotics, especially the “first generation” ones, are known to have side effects ranging from drowsiness to weight gain to tremors. Antidepressant or antianxiety medications may also be prescribed in place of or in combination with therapy.
- Therapy: Psychological and social help is important for helping someone with schizophrenia, as well as their loved ones, cope with the disorder. The exact form that therapy takes will differ from one case to the next. It could be one-on-one therapy to help deal with emotional stress, social therapy to help develop interpersonal skills, vocational therapy to help someone keep or find a job, etc.
- Support: A support system is key for anyone battling a serious mental disorder. Whether this means a specialized housing community or simply having a network of friends and family to talk to will depend on the individual.
It is important not to be discouraged by setbacks during treatment. It is possible, for instance, to have periods where symptoms become severe enough to warrant hospitalization, but this does not necessarily mean the current treatment isn’t working. By working with supportive loved ones, doctors, and therapists, it is possible to live a successful and thriving life.
A key part of any treatment is compliance with prescribed medication. Some patients will stop taking their medication either because the side effects are intolerable or because they feel fine and don’t think they need it anymore. This does not normally end well. In addition to the possibility of the patient’s most severe symptoms returning, it is highly likely that their medications were not meant to be abruptly stopped and potentially severe side effects may kick in.
Ensuring compliance can mean loved ones or support workers help make sure patients take their medication or talk to their doctors about alternatives or lower doses. It is extremely important that someone with schizophrenia only stop taking their medicine or alter their dose under a doctor’s supervision
There is a great deal of stigma and myth surrounding schizophrenia but that doesn’t mean recovery isn’t possible. Early intervention, medicine, and a strong support system can do wonders for letting patients’ live normal, productive, happy lives.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Nordqvist, C., “Paranoid Schizophrenia: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments,” Medical News Today web site, May 27, 2015; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/192621.php.
“Schizophrenia,” Mayo Clinic web site, January 24, 2014; https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443.
“Schizophrenia Treatment and Recovery,” HelpGuide.org; http://www.helpguide.org/articles/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-treatment-and-recovery.htm, last accessed December 7, 2015.