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Risk Factors for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a complex illness. Experts don't know what causes it or why some people develop it and others don't. Some factors make it more likely that a person will develop schizophrenia. These are called risk factors. Keep in mind that having 1 or more of these risk factors doesn't mean you will develop schizophrenia. These risk factors include:

  • Having a close family member who is living with schizophrenia. This includes mother, father, brother, or sister. But having a relative with schizophrenia doesn't mean you will develop this illness.

  • Having a mother who experienced certain problems during pregnancy. For example, not having enough to eat (malnutrition), having a viral infection, or taking medicines (diuretics) for high blood pressure can put some at increased risk.

  • Having a family member who has a disorder that is similar to schizophrenia. An example of this is a delusional disorder, which involves believing things that can't be proved.

  • Having a problem with alcohol or drugs. Experts don't know whether problem substance use triggers schizophrenia or whether a person with schizophrenia is more likely to have a substance use problem.

  • Having increased immune system activation, such as inflammation or an autoimmune disease.

  • Having a problem with certain naturally occurring brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), specifically dopamine and glutamate.

Risk of relapse

If symptoms come back after a period of being well-managed, it's called a relapse. Anyone with schizophrenia can have a relapse, but it happens more often when you stop treatment and don’t take your medicines as you should. People sometimes stop treatment before they should when:

  • They have side effects from the medicines and they don’t know how to get relief from them

  • They feel better and think they no longer need medicine or other treatment (therapy) 

  • They use alcohol or drugs excessively

  • They don't believe they have schizophrenia

  • They have disorganized or confusing thoughts and forget to take their medicines

  • They are afraid of or think false thoughts about treatment (paranoia or delusions)

If you are having trouble with medicine side effects or want to stop using your medicines or treatment for any reason, talk with your healthcare team first. They can help figure out how to treat side effects or suggest other medicines that might be effective with fewer side effects. If you want to try to decrease or stop your medicines, your team will listen to you and work with you to develop a plan to do this safely.


Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 3/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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