Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition that can affect a person’s perceptions, cognition, and behavior. Acute schizophrenia is when a person shows obvious signs of the condition, such as hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thoughts and behavior.

Schizophrenia has three distinct phases, which doctors refer to as “prodromal,” “acute,” and “residual.” Treatments, such as medications, psychological therapies, and lifestyle changes can help manage and alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia. In many cases, these treatments improve a person’s functioning and quality of life.

This article gives a definition of acute schizophrenia, and lists the symptoms. We also list the possible causes of schizophrenia and the treatment options available. Finally, we provide general tips and advice for people experiencing acute schizophrenia.

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Schizophrenia is a type of psychosis, meaning it causes significant changes to a person’s perceptions, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

The condition has three phases:

  • Prodromal phase: This is the earliest phase, in which a person begins to experience changes within themselves. However, they are not yet experiencing obvious symptoms of psychosis.
  • Acute or “active” phase: This is when a person experiences obvious and typically distressing symptoms of psychosis.
  • Residual or “recovery” phase: This is the recovery phase, in which a person experiences fewer or no obvious symptoms of psychosis.

Symptoms a person may experience during the acute phase of schizophrenia include:

Schizophrenia symptoms will differ according to the phase of psychosis a person is experiencing.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the symptoms a person experiences during the acute phase of schizophrenia fall into the following three categories:

  • Positive symptoms: These include thoughts and behaviors that do not normally occur in the person’s day-to-day life, such as:
    • exaggerated or distorted perceptions, beliefs, or behaviors
    • visual or auditory hallucinations
    • paranoia
  • Negative symptoms: These are thoughts and behaviors that used to be typical for the person but no longer occur. Examples include a loss or decrease in the following:
    • ability to speak or express emotions
    • ability to find pleasure
    • ability to make plans with others
  • Disorganized symptoms: These are thoughts and behaviors that are unusual for the person, such as:
    • confused and disordered thinking and speech
    • abnormal movements
    • bizarre behavior

Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that consists of several phases, one of which is the “acute” phase. This simply means that the person is experiencing a flare-up of symptoms following a period when their symptoms were less severe.

Sometimes, the acute phase occurs when the person stops taking their medication, while other times, it may occur for no apparent reason.

However, it is possible for a person to develop what doctors refer to as brief psychotic disorder. A person living with this condition typically develops schizophrenia symptoms that remain stable but last no longer than 1 month.

If symptoms persist for 1–6 months, a doctor will typically change the diagnosis to schizophreniform disorder. If symptoms persist beyond 6 months, the diagnosis will be schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia typically develops slowly over time. However, during the initial or “prodromal” phase, a person may not display any obvious signs of the condition. As such, it is possible that a doctor will fail to notice or diagnose the condition until the symptoms have become more evident.

In some cases, a doctor may mistake the symptoms of schizophrenia for typical developmental issues, as is often the case when a teenager develops the condition.

Experts have not identified the exact cause of schizophrenia. However, some possible explanations include:

  • Genetics: Schizophrenia can run in families. However, having a parent or relative living with the condition does not mean that a person will automatically develop the condition themselves.
  • Differences in brain chemistry: People with schizophrenia may have neurotransmitters that work differently.
  • Substance use or misuse: Cannabis use may increase a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to infections or malnutrition in utero may contribute to the development of schizophrenia.

There is no cure for schizophrenia. However, treatments are available that can help a person with schizophrenia live a productive and fulfilling life.

Doctors may recommend several treatment methods to help a person with schizophrenia achieve symptom remission. Common treatment methods include:

In addition, doctors often monitor a person living with schizophrenia for signs of substance use or misuse. If a person uses or misuses drugs or medications, a doctor will likely take steps to treat addiction.

In addition to therapies and medications, a person can take steps in their everyday life to manage schizophrenia and help prevent acute phases of the condition.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a list of daily habits that could help ease the challenges of schizophrenia. Examples include:

  • learning the warning signs of an acute episode, and seeking help as soon as possible
  • staying committed to the treatment plan, and letting the doctor know if symptoms are worsening
  • staying focused on treatment goals and sharing those goals with family and friends
  • talking with a doctor about social assistance for living and working in the community
  • joining a support group
  • avoiding drinking alcohol, smoking, and taking drugs recreationally
  • practicing relaxation and stress management techniques daily

Acute schizophrenia typically refers to the active phase of schizophrenia, in which a person shows signs and symptoms of the mental health disorder.

However, In some cases, a doctor may use the term “acute schizophrenia” to refer to an acute schizophrenia-like disorder. This is a short-lived mental health condition with schizophrenia-like symptoms. However, it is not the same as schizophrenia.

While there is no cure for schizophrenia, treatments are available to help manage and lessen the symptoms. Certain lifestyle changes may also help to keep the condition under control.

A person who is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia should talk with their doctor for further advice and treatment.