It’s not known what causes schizophrenia, but researchers believe that a combination of genetics and environment contributes to development of the disease.
Problems with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals, including the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, also may contribute to schizophrenia. Neuroimaging studies show differences in the brain structure and central nervous system of people with schizophrenia. While researchers aren’t certain about the significance of these changes, they support evidence that schizophrenia is a brain disease.
Although the precise cause of schizophrenia isn’t known, researchers have identified certain factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering schizophrenia, including:
Having a family history of schizophrenia
Exposure to viruses, toxins or malnutrition while in the womb, particularly in the first and second trimesters
Stressful life circumstances
Older paternal age
Taking psychoactive drugs during adolescence and young adulthood
Left untreated, schizophrenia can result in severe emotional, behavioral and health problems, as well as legal and financial problems that affect every area of life. Complications that schizophrenia may cause or be associated with include:
Self-destructive behavior, such as self-injury
Abuse of alcohol, drugs or prescription medications
Inability to work or attend school
Health problems from antipsychotic medications
Being a victim or perpetrator of violent crime
Heart disease, often related to heavy smoking