Schizophrenia is a relatively rare mental health condition. About 1 in 300 people have schizophrenia worldwide. In most cases, people receive a diagnosis in early adulthood.

The above information comes from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Researchers have found that a combination of genes and environmental factors causes schizophrenia. However, the exact mechanism underlying schizophrenia is not fully understood, so experts do not yet know why some people develop the condition and others do not.

Read on to learn about schizophrenia’s prevalence, risk factors, and genetic and environmental aspects.

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It is difficult to say exactly how many people have schizophrenia due to several factors.

For one, schizophrenia is complex for doctors to diagnose. It often requires extended clinical evaluation and presents differently person to person.

Experts diagnose schizophrenia according to guidelines set in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Although it is a common belief that schizophrenia occurs more often in males than females, epidemiological studies have found no significant differences between sexes or genders.

For males and females with schizophrenia, the most common difference is the age of onset of symptoms. Males typically start experiencing symptoms around ages 18–25, while women typically experience onset from ages 25–35.

Experts also note that males tend to have more severe negative symptoms and less severe affective symptoms than females with schizophrenia. They are also more likely to misuse alcohol or drugs than their female counterparts.

Negative symptoms include:

  • a lack of motivation for normal activities
  • slow movement
  • poor hygiene
  • withdrawal from others

Positive symptoms include:

  • changes in behaviors and thoughts, such as:
    • hallucinations
    • delusions
    • confused thoughts

There is considerable evidence that genetics cause schizophrenia, but the exact mechanism is not yet understood.

Some studies estimate schizophrenia to be up to 90% heritable, while other studies estimate this number to be closer to 50–60%.

However, genetics clearly play a role. A 2016 study discovered a particular gene in an abnormally high number of people with schizophrenia, though this is one gene among many known genetic risks.

Another 2016 study found that if one parent has schizophrenia, their offspring has a 13% chance of developing it. If both parents have schizophrenia, the likelihood increases to 20%.

Some other mental health conditions commonly co-occur alongside schizophrenia, including:

Symptoms of co-occurring disorders can interact with those of schizophrenia in significant ways. Doctors consider treating all symptoms when forming a treatment plan.

A combination of genes and environmental factors is thought to cause schizophrenia.

The specific environmental factors are not fully understood, but some researchers think fetal hypoxia and prenatal infections may increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Substance use may also cause people with schizophrenia to experience symptoms earlier in life. Substance use can also worsen existing symptoms and possibly induce psychosis.

Though it is less common than other mental disorders, schizophrenia can significantly impact lives. People with schizophrenia have an increased risk of suicide, early death, and other health conditions.

However, when treated, people with schizophrenia can have a high quality of life.

Most people with schizophrenia need some sort of lifelong treatment. This may include individual therapy, group therapy, and medication.

Treatment is most effective for people with schizophrenia when they follow their medication and treatment plan, recognize signs of oncoming symptom flare-ups, and stay focused on treatment goals, which include managing symptoms and preventing relapse.

Schizophrenia is a mental health condition affecting about 1 in 300 people worldwide. It is characterized by problems perceiving reality, hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts and behaviors.

A family history of schizophrenia increases the risk of developing the disorder. Its cause is thought to be mostly genetic with some environmental factors.