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What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe, long-lasting (chronic) brain disease. It affects major areas of everyday life and can get in the way of your ability to take care of yourself.

Schizophrenia makes it hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is unreal. You have trouble thinking clearly, speaking (choosing your words, making sentences), managing emotions and relating with others. You may hear voices or have thoughts that other people are trying to read your mind, control your thoughts or cause you harm.

Schizophrenia occurs equally among men and women. Men are usually affected in their late teens or early 20s. Women are usually affected in their 20s to early 30s. Although rare, young children older than age 5 or adults (over age 40) can develop schizophrenia.

Medicines or other treatments can help control and reduce the symptoms, but this disease needs lifelong treatment.

Causes of schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is not a split personality disorder (a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde switch in character). Schizophrenia is a complex disease of the brain.

It may be caused by:

  • a disorder in development of the brain
  • a genetic link. Schizophrenia tends to run in families.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Schizophrenia, mh-ahc-12505 Information adapted from the National Institute of Mental Health (
First Published: 09/01/2006
Last Reviewed: 12/03/2018