Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that distorts the way you think, act, express emotions, perceive reality, and relate to others. Schizophrenia is the most chronic and disabling of the major mental illnesses and it leads you to have problems functioning in society, at work, school, and in relationships. Schizophrenia can leave you frightened and withdrawn. It is a life-long disease that cannot be cured but can be controlled with proper treatment. 

You may hear voices that other people do not hear, if you suffer from schizophrenia. You may believe that other people are reading your minds, controlling your thoughts, or trying to harm you. This can terrify you and make you withdrawn or extremely agitated. You may also not make sense when you talk. Often, you can sit for hours without moving or talking. Schizophrenia is a chronic condition, requiring lifelong treatment.

People often use schizophrenia synonymously with split personality or multiple personality disorder, but this is incorrect. It is not known what causes schizophrenia, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Problems with certain brain chemicals such as dopamine and glutamate also contribute to schizophrenia.​​

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three broad categories: 

  • Positive symptoms: these are psychotic behaviours that are not seen in healthy people. You are seen as losing touch with reality. These symptoms include the following:

    • ​Hallucinations: something you see, hear, smell, or feel that no one else can. Hearing voices is the most common type of hallucination in schizophrenia. You may hear voices for a long time before family and friends notice the problem. Other types of hallucinations include seeing people or objects that are not there, smelling odours that no one else detects, and feeling things like invisible fingers touching you when no one is actually near you.

    • Delusions: these are false beliefs that are not true or logical like someone trying to control you, or having other paranoid delusions that someone is trying to harm you or someone you care about. These beliefs are called "delusions of persecution."

    • Movement disorders: these may appear as agitated body movements. You may repeat certain motions over and over or become catatonic, that is, you do not move or respond to others. 

  • Negative symptoms: these are disruptions to normal emotions and behaviours and are harder to recognize because they can be mistaken for depression​ or other conditions. These symptoms include the following:​

    • ​"Flat affect" (your face does not move and you talk in a dull or monotonous voice)

    • Lack of pleasure in everyday life

    • Lack of ability to begin and sustain planned activities

    • Speaking little, even when forced to interact

    • Needing help with everyday tasks

    • Neglecting basic personal hygiene

  • Cognitive symptoms: these are subtle symptoms and are only detected when other tests are performed. Cognitive symptoms include the following:​

    • ​Poor executive functioning, that is, the ability to understand information and use it to make decisions

    • Trouble focusing or paying attention

    • Inability to use information immediately after learning it​

If you or a loved one is facing delusions, hallucinations or any of the other symptoms associated with schizophrenia, seek help from your doctor working with the Mind and Brain Service Line​ at The Aga Khan University Hospital. You can safely and privately discuss your symptoms, gain advice and receive personalized treatment and care.​

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here​ are some tips to help get you started.​

A diagnosis of schizophrenia will be made based on a full psychiatric evaluation, medical history, physical exam, and lab tests.

Your doctor or psychiatrist will ask a series of questions about you or your loved one's symptoms, psychiatric history, and family history of mental health problems. He/she may also conduct a medical history and exam, asking about your personal and family health history. You will also undergo a complete physical examination to check for medical issues that could be causing or contributing to the problem.

Laboratory tests can be used to rule out other medical causes of symptoms. These include brain-imaging studies, such as an Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan, in order to look for brain abnormalities associated with schizophrenia.​

It is important that schizophrenia is diagnosed as early as possible, because the chances of recovery are much greater the earlier it is treated. The most effective treatment for schizophrenia patients is usually a combination of medication and psychological counselling.

Anti-psychosis drugs have made a great difference in schizophrenic patients’ lives, allowing them to lead a much more normal life than before. Compliance (that is, following the medication regimen) is a major problem in the treatment for schizophrenia. You may be tempted to go off your medication for long periods, at huge personal cost to yourself and to those around you as well.

You must continue taking medication even when symptoms are gone, otherwise they will come back. Successful schizophrenia treatment comes from a life-long regimen of both drug and therapy. The medication can help control your hallucinations and delusions, but it cannot help you to learn to communicate with others, get a job, and thrive in society. If you have schizophrenia and comply with the treatment regimen, you will be able to lead a happy and productive life.

Sometimes you may experience side effects when you start taking these medications. Most side effects go away after a few days and often can be managed successfully. These include: ​

  • Drowsiness

  • Dizziness when changing positions

  • Blurred vision

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Sensitivity to the sun

  • Skin rashes

  • Menstrual problems for women​

Therapy and counselling help you to deal with everyday challenges of the illness, such as difficulty with communication, self-care, work, and forming and keeping relationships. Learning and using coping mechanisms to address these problems can allow you to socialize and attend school and work.

Receiving regular psychosocial treatment can also make you more likely to keep taking your medication, and less likely to have relapses or be hospitalized. Therapists can help you to better understand and adjust to living with schizophrenia. They can also provide education about the disorder, common symptoms or problems you may experience, and the importance of staying on medications.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​




The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.