Causes of schizophrenia

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Even though scientists are conducting extensive research into the causes of this disease, they do not yet have all the answers. While a few causal theories exist like genetics, birth trauma and defective areas in the brain, no single definite cause has yet been identified. 

• Genetics
Genetic transmission definitely plays a role, based on families in which the disorder is prevalent. However, no single gene has been identified as the transmitter of schizophrenia. One theory is that a multiple group of genes may be involved.

In an individual with the “right” combination of defective genes, certain adverse events like drug abuse, severe stress or serious illness may act as triggers.

• Birth and societal factors
Studies have shown that trauma at birth or intra-uterine infections may be a possible cause of schizophrenia in later life. It is also more common in the urban environment and among immigrant populations. 

Smoking cannabis (dagga) as a teenager has also been shown to increase the chances of developing schizophrenia later in life.

• Dysfunctioning brain neurotransmitters
Schizophrenia involves a dysfunction in neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and dopamine (chemical substances involved in transmission of impulses between nerve cells).  Certain areas in the brain are defective, especially in the frontal and temporal lobes.

Reviewed by Dr Tasneem Mahomed, MBBCh (Wits), FC Psych (SA), Mmed Psych (Wits),
Psychiatrist in private practice, Cape Town. March 2015.

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