Schizophrenia is a complex biochemical brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to determine what is reality and what is not. People with schizophrenia are affected by delusions, hallucinations, social withdrawal and disturbed thinking. Early signs of a Schizophrenic episode include trouble concentrating, thinking or communicating clearly, or taking part in their usual activities. Some people experience changes in mood, motivation and the ability to complete tasks. The exact course and impact of Schizophrenia is unique for each patient. Some may experience a single episode while others experience many throughout their lifetime. Regardless of the differing manifestations of the disease, researchers agree that early detection and treatment can help to reduce the impact of future psychotic episodes.[1]

Schizophrenia can affect any person, but the majority of diagnoses are made in the late teens and early 20s for men, and the late 20s and 30s for women. It is uncommon for Schizophrenia to be diagnosed in a person younger than 12 or older than 40. Approximately 1.2% of the American population has been diagnosed with the disease. This means there are around 3.2 million Americans living with Schizophrenia.[2]Measuring the exact number of people suffering from Schizophrenia is difficult, given the countless number of undiagnosed patients.

 

Diagnosing Schizophrenia is notoriously difficult. Several factors, such as drug abuse, can mimic the symptoms of Schizophrenia. The difficulty of diagnosing this illness lies in the fact that many who are diagnosed do not believe they have it. Lack of awareness is a common symptom of people diagnosed with Schizophrenia and greatly complicates any subsequent treatment.[2]

 

There is no single lab or physical test that can diagnose Schizophrenia. A health care provider must evaluate the presented symptoms and the course of a person’s illness over six months in order to help ensure a correct diagnosis. Most health care providers will rule out other factors such as brain tumours and other psychiatric diagnoses, such as bipolar disorder, before deciding on a Schizophrenia diagnosis. Because there is a reliance on the opinions of health practitioners to make a diagnosis, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be misdiagnosed due to cultural and language barriers. This also means that people living in underserviced and developing areas are less likely to receive an accurate diagnosis. There is strong evidence to suggest that early diagnosis and treatment programs reduce the severity and frequency of later Schizophrenic episodes.[2]


Research has indicated the existence of metabolic biomarkers associated with Schizophrenia. Di Natale et al. were able to identify Schizophrenic patients through VOCs present in the sweat of patients.[3]A similar study looked at the concentrations of certain compounds found in the blood plasma of patients and identified several potential biomarkers. A study from Phillips et al. demonstrated a difference in pentane and carbon disulfide concentrations in the breath of patients with Schizophrenia and healthy controls.[4]These studies are limited by several confounding factors, such as medication, as well as the limited sample sizes. Larger studies ofa more general sample population are required to validate these findings. However, it is a positive step towards understanding a prevalent disease with no sound diagnostic procedure. Information surrounding the biomarkers indicative of Schizophrenia may also aid in the development of novel treatments. Continuous, non-invasive breath analysis may also allow for the detection of incoming Schizophrenic episodes, before symptoms become visible.

References

[1]Schizophrenia https://cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/schizophrenia(accessed Jun 7, 2019).

[2]What is Schizophrenia? | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Schizophrenia(accessed Jun 5, 2019).[3]DiNatale, C.; Paolesse, R.; D’Arcangelo, G.; Comandini, P.; Pennazza, G.; Martinelli, E.; Rullo, S.; Roscioni, M. C.; Roscioni,C.; Finazzi-Agrò, A.; et al. Identification of Schizophrenic Patients by Examination of Body Odor Using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and a Cross-Selective Gas Sensor Array. Med. Sci. Monit.2005, 11(8), CR366-375.[4]Phillips, M.; Sabas, M.; Greenberg, J. Increased Pentane and Carbon Disulfide in the Breath of Patients with Schizophrenia. J. Clin. Pathol.1993, 46(9), 861–864.

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Schizophrenia

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