Is Schizophrenia Genetic?

September 26, 2023

man looks down representing schizophrenia

For those wondering, “Is schizophrenia a genetic disorder?”, it is a neurological disorder. That said, those who have family members diagnosed with this condition may naturally have questions, such as:

  • Is schizophrenia genetic or environmental?
  • Is schizophrenia hereditary?
  • Is schizophrenia genetic?

These questions are understandable, as is your concern about your own risk of developing the condition.  This guide outlines the basics of schizophrenia genetics and directly answers the question “Is schizophrenia inherited” – and there is an increased risk for individuals with close relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, early intervention can potentially mitigate the impact of schizophrenia on an individual’s life.

But what exactly is schizophrenia? As defined by APA (American Psychiatric Association), schizophrenia is a neurological disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, cognitive challenges, disordered speech, and a lack of motivation. It affects approximately 1% of the population, typically manifesting in the late teens to early twenties, with an earlier onset on average in males.

While episodes of psychosis are a defining feature of the disorder, subtle signs may emerge earlier – difficulties in school or with interpersonal relationships, for instance. These early symptoms might also be suggestive of other mental health conditions. However, if someone individual experiences psychotic symptoms for a continuous six-month period, they may receive an official diagnosis of schizophrenia.

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Does Schizophrenia Run in Families?

Is schizophrenia hereditary, then? Schizophrenia has a significant genetic component, and scientists have made considerable progress in identifying specific genes linked to the disorder. These genes can influence brain function, leading to structural differences in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia and an increased risk of developing the condition.

Having said that, the precise mechanisms of how these genes interact and cause schizophrenia in certain individuals are not yet fully understood. The schizophrenia genetic component is complex and requires further research to unravel the intricacies.

Neuroimaging research has illuminated the structural differences in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia. They may exhibit enlarged brain cavities and reduced cortical volume. The brains of people with schizophrenia exhibit distinct patterns of brain activity, as seen through neuroimaging. These differences in brain structure and function contribute to the condition’s complexity.

One genetic variation known as 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, characterized by a missing fragment of chromosome 22, is strongly associated with an elevated risk of schizophrenia. Individuals with this syndrome have a smaller cortical surface area in the brain. Alarmingly, roughly 30% of those with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome develop schizophrenia—a risk 10 to 20 times higher than that of the general population. Beyond this, they face the potential for other syndromes affecting the heart, immune system, and cognitive abilities. 1% to 2% of individuals with schizophrenia have this specific deletion.

DRD2 variant

Another gene implicated in schizophrenia is DRD2, a dopamine receptor that is located on chromosome 11. Research has revealed that variants in the DRD2 gene are associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia. A recent study compared the genotypes of 101 young adults with schizophrenia to 101 neurotypical controls, further supporting this genetic link.

ZNF804 variant

Variants in the ZNF804A gene, located on chromosome 2q32.1, are known to be associated with various neurological conditions, including schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder. These findings underscore the complex genetic landscape contributing to schizophrenia’s development and underscore the importance of ongoing research to deepen our understanding of this disorder’s genetic underpinnings.

Are You Born with Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a multifaceted disorder influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. While there is a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia, individuals are not born with the condition itself. Instead, genetic susceptibility interacts with environmental triggers to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia.

How do you get schizophrenia, then?

Genetic factors play a substantial role in determining an individual’s vulnerability to schizophrenia. Having a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, with the disorder increases the likelihood of inheriting certain genetic markers associated with schizophrenia. However, the presence of these genetic factors does not guarantee that an individual will develop the disorder.

Environmental factors, such as prenatal exposures, psychosocial stressors, and early-life experiences, also contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia. These variables can interact with genetic susceptibility, potentially triggering the development of the disorder later in life.

Schizophrenia generally emerges during late adolescence or early adulthood, even though genetic and environmental influences may have been present from birth. Early intervention, diagnosis, and treatment can help manage the condition’s impact on an individual’s life, highlighting the importance of recognizing the interplay between genetics and environmental factors in schizophrenia’s development.

Therapist explaining how do you get schizophrenia

What Causes Schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is not yet fully understood, but it is believed to result from a complex interplay of various factors, including genetic, environmental, and neurobiological influences. Here are some key causes of schizophrenia:

  • Genetics: Genetic factors play a significant role in the susceptibility to schizophrenia. Individuals with a family history of the disorder are at a higher risk. Researchers have identified specific genes associated with schizophrenia, although no single gene is responsible for the condition. It is likely that multiple genetic variations collectively contribute to the risk.
  • Brain structure and function: Abnormalities in brain structure and function are observed in individuals with schizophrenia. These include differences in brain volume, ventricle size, and altered patterns of brain activity. Neuroimaging studies have provided valuable insights into these structural and functional changes.
  • Neurochemical factors: Dysregulation of neurotransmitters – especially dopamine and glutamate – is implicated in schizophrenia. Medications used to treat the disorder often target these neurotransmitter systems to alleviate symptoms.
  • Environmental factors: Various environmental factors during pregnancy and early life may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia. These factors include prenatal exposure to infections, malnutrition, stress, and substance abuse. Childhood adversity and urban upbringing have also been associated with a higher risk.
  • Stress and trauma: Chronic stress and exposure to traumatic events can contribute to the onset and exacerbation of schizophrenia symptoms in susceptible individuals.
  • Drug use: Substance abuse, particularly cannabis and hallucinogenic drugs, has been linked to an increased risk of developing schizophrenia, especially in genetically predisposed individuals.
  • Developmental factors: Schizophrenia typically emerges during late adolescence or early adulthood, suggesting that factors influencing brain development and maturation may play a role.

While these factors are associated with the development of schizophrenia, they do not guarantee that an individual will develop the disorder. Schizophrenia is a complex condition, and its onset is likely influenced by a combination of these factors. Ongoing research aims to deepen our understanding of the precise mechanisms underlying schizophrenia, which can lead to improved prevention, early intervention, and treatment strategies.

How to Help a Loved One with Schizophrenia

Supporting a loved one with schizophrenia can be challenging, but it is essential to provide care, understanding, and assistance. Here are some ways in which you can help a family member or friend who has schizophrenia:

  • Educate yourself: Learn about schizophrenia, its symptoms, and treatment options. Understanding the condition can help you empathize with your loved one and provide better support.
  • Encourage treatment: Encourage your loved one to seek and adhere to treatment. Medications, therapy, and psychosocial interventions can help manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.
  • Be patient: Schizophrenia can cause significant mood swings, disorganized thinking, and hallucinations. Be patient and compassionate when communicating with your loved one.
  • Maintain open communication: Encourage open and honest communication. Let your loved one know that you are there to listen and support them without judgment.
  • Offer practical help: Assist with daily tasks, such as managing medication, attending medical appointments, or organizing their living space. Practical support can alleviate some of the challenges they face.
  • Foster independence: Urge your loved one to maintain as much independence as possible. Set achievable goals together to build their self-confidence.
  • Create a supportive environment: Create a safe and supportive living environment. Minimize stressors and provide a structured routine, which can help manage symptoms.
  • Seek support: Connect with support groups and mental health organizations that specialize in schizophrenia. These resources can provide guidance and a sense of community for both you and your loved one.
  • Understand medication: Learn about your loved one’s prescribed medications, their potential side effects, and the importance of adherence. Encourage them to discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider.
  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle: Promote a balanced diet, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep, as these factors can positively impact mental health.
  • Monitor for suicidal thoughts: Be vigilant for signs of suicidal thoughts or self-harm and seek immediate help if you have concerns about their safety.
  • Practice self-care: Caring for someone with schizophrenia can be emotionally demanding. Prioritize your own mental and emotional well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist when needed.

Remember that schizophrenia is a lifelong condition, and there may be periods of stability and relapse. Your ongoing support and understanding can significantly improve your loved one’s quality of life and overall well-being.

Image of two people representing getting help for what causes schizophrenia

Get Treatment for Schizophrenia at Connections Mental Health Center

If you or someone you know is affected by schizophrenia, seeking professional help can provide stability and guidance. Shortcut your search for assistance by reaching out to Connections Mental Health in Southern California.

The environment at our luxury facility is homely, welcoming, and inclusive. Our team of passionate and committed experts blend science-based and holistic treatments to help improve overall well-being and functioning for those with schizophrenia and other mental health conditions.

Call admissions at 844-413-0009 when you are ready to live unconstrained by schizophrenia.

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