What Causes Schizophrenia? (2024)

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What Causes Schizophrenia? (1)
Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh,MD on April 20, 2024

5 min read

Schizophrenia Causes

Doctors don’t know for sure what causes schizophrenia. Research shows a combination of genetics and your environment can trigger the disease. If you have a family member with schizophrenia, you're more likely to have it. Things like stressful life events, exposure to viruses or toxins before you were born, and trauma in your early childhood can also increase your risk. Scientists have also found changes in brain chemistry and structure when someone has schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia Brain Changes

Scientists have found that changes in the structure and chemical makeup of your brain may play a role in schizophrenia.

Brain structure in schizophrenia

If you have schizophrenia, you might have:

  • Larger spaces called ventricles in the brain
  • Smaller medial temporal lobes – the parts of the brain in charge of memory
  • Abnormal connections between brain cells

Studies have also linked schizophrenia with a loss of brain tissue. Positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans show that gray matter – the part of the brain that contains nerve cells – shrinks over time. Loss of brain tissue may be related to your symptoms of the illness.

Brain chemicals

You might also have differences in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals help brain cells “talk to” one another. Certain neurotransmitters may be too active or not active enough.

Dopamine and glutamate are neurotransmitters linked to schizophrenia. They carry messages that help you think and understand, and that motivate you. An imbalance of these chemicals could affect how your brain reacts to the world around you. That could lead to schizophrenia symptoms like hallucinations, where you see or hear things that aren’t real.

Dopamine has been linked to addiction. It also plays a role in other mental health and movement disorders, like Parkinson’s disease. One theory is that an imbalance of dopamine leads to symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. Antipsychotic drugs that treat schizophrenia block dopamine.

Glutamate is involved with memory, mood, and thinking, and it activates some parts of the brain. Your brain may have changes in glutamate activity. These changes could cause schizophrenia symptoms like a lack of emotion and poor social skills.

Doctors are trying to learn how brain circuits that use these chemicals work together or are related to each other.

Is Schizophrenia Genetic?

Your genes are like a blueprint for your body. A change to these plans might increase your chance of getting diseases like schizophrenia. Research shows that almost 80% of the risk for schizophrenia lies in genes.

You’re more likely to get schizophrenia if someone in your family has it. If it’s a parent, brother, or sister, your chances go up by 10%. If your identical twin has it, your risk goes up by as much as 50%.

But some people with schizophrenia have no history of it in their family. Scientists think that in these cases, genes may have changed in that person to make the condition more likely.

Genes that cause schizophrenia

Doctors don’t think there’s just one “schizophrenia gene.” Instead, they believe it takes many genetic changes, or mutations, to increase your risk of having this mental illness. Usually, several small changes add up to a higher risk.

Doctors aren’t sure how genetic changes lead to schizophrenia, or exactly which genes are involved. Some of the genes linked to schizophrenia affect brain development. Others are related to the immune system and inflammation. Inflammation is a response by your immune system to stressors, and it's been linked to the development of many physical and mental diseases.

The Default Mode Network

The default mode network (DMN) includes areas of your brain that are active when you’re at rest – daydreaming, reflecting, and processing thoughts and memories. If you have schizophrenia, you might have abnormal connections in this network that can cause issues with self-awareness, hallucinations, and delusions. The DMN may not turn off as usual when you're doing tasks, as it does in people without the illness. This might cause you to have trouble controlling your intrusive thoughts. Research shows that childhood trauma can have a negative effect on DMN function, which might cause schizophrenia later in life.

Environmental Triggers

Things in your environment can also cause schizophrenia. Some of these are:

Problems during pregnancy and birth.You could be at higher risk if your mother had bleeding or high blood pressure during her pregnancy, or if she had an emergency cesarean section. Being born at a lower-than-normal weight increases the risk of getting schizophrenia at an earlier age. Exposure to a virus like the flu or herpes in the womb might also be a factor.

Traumatic life events.Sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, or the death of a parent in childhood might increase your risk of having schizophrenia as an adult. There is a three times higher risk of having one of these life events within 3 years before schizophrenia symptoms start.

Substance use.Stimulant drugs like amphetamines and cocaine can cause psychosis. Some research shows that people who use cannabis have a two to three times higher risk of schizophrenia. The younger you start using these substances and the more often you use them, the more likely you are to have symptoms of psychosis.

Moving to a new country.People who are refugees from another country have a higher risk of schizophrenia. The problem could be from trauma they face along the way, such as discrimination and not having a home. The children and grandchildren of people who migrate to another country are also at risk.


You might have differences in your brain structure and chemicals called neurotransmitters if you have schizophrenia. Most of your risk comes from genes, but your environment may also play a role in causing this mental health condition. Problems when you were in the womb or being born, traumatic life events, and substance use might all be involved.

Schizophrenia FAQs

Can people with schizophrenia live normal lives?

Yes. Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment with antipsychotic medicines and therapy. But with these treatments, you can go to school, have a job, and have healthy relationships.

What happens if schizophrenia is left untreated?

If you don’t treat schizophrenia, it can lead to psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms may be frightening and can disrupt your life.

How does schizophrenia start off?

Changes in your genes make you more likely to get schizophrenia. Then something in your environment, like trauma or substance use, sets the condition in motion. Mood swings, a lack of focus, and social isolation may be the first signs of schizophrenia.

Does schizophrenia come and go?

In some people, schizophrenia symptoms come and go. Others have more consistent symptoms.

  • Schizophrenia Causes
  • Types of Schizophrenia
  • Early Signs of Schizophrenia
What Causes Schizophrenia? (2024)


What Causes Schizophrenia? ›

The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Research suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition. Some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode.

What are the 3 main causes of schizophrenia? ›

What causes schizophrenia?
  • Stressful life events.
  • Drug and alcohol use.
  • Genetic inheritance.
  • Differences in brain chemistry.

How did my schizophrenia start? ›

It's not known what causes schizophrenia, but researchers believe that a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and environment contributes to development of the disorder.

Does schizophrenia ever go away? ›

Schizophrenia isn't curable, but it's often treatable. In a small percentage of cases, people can recover from schizophrenia entirely. But this isn't a cure because there's no way of knowing who will relapse and who won't. Because of that, experts consider those who recover from this condition “in remission.”

How does schizophrenia feel? ›

Drastic changes in behaviour may occur, and the person can become upset, anxious, confused, angry or suspicious of those around them. But most people who get psychotic episodes are not a danger to others. They may not think they need help, and it can be hard to persuade them to visit a doctor.

Who gets schizophrenia the most? ›

Age-Of-Onset for Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is typically diagnosed in the late teens years to early thirties, and tends to emerge earlier in males (late adolescence – early twenties) than females (early twenties – early thirties).

What is the biggest symptom of schizophrenia? ›

Hallucinations. People with schizophrenia might hear, see, smell, or feel things no one else does.

Is schizophrenia real or made up? ›

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. People with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality, which can be distressing for them and for their family and friends.

What makes schizophrenia worse? ›

When you have schizophrenia, it is very important to take care of yourself and make good choices. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Using alcohol or drugs can make treating this illness more difficult.

How to tell if someone is schizophrenic? ›

You could be diagnosed with schizophrenia if you experience some of the following symptoms:
  1. Hallucinations.
  2. Delusions.
  3. Disorganised thinking.
  4. Lack of motivation.
  5. Slow movement.
  6. Change in sleep patterns.
  7. Poor grooming or hygiene.
  8. Changes in body language and emotions.

What is the life expectancy of a schizophrenic? ›

The studies concluded that men with schizophrenia lose an average of 15.9 years of life, and women with schizophrenia lose around 13.6 years. These findings show that, on average, men with schizophrenia have an average life expectancy of 59.9 years and women 67.6 years.

Can a schizophrenic live alone? ›

There is a small percentage of people who will continue to struggle with symptoms and to live independently, but most patients who go through treatment, find the right medications, continue with ongoing therapy and support, and practice good self-care and management will recover sufficiently to live normally and well.

Do schizophrenics blame others? ›

In other words, first patients don't have what they wish, then they don't admit their incompetency and the result is the delusion of persecution, blaming others for their failure (9). Delusion of persecution is the most common type of delusion in schizophrenia (7).

Do schizophrenics feel love? ›

Psychotic symptoms, difficulty expressing emotions and making social connections, a tendency to be isolated, and other issues get in the way of meeting friends and establishing relationships. Finding love while living with schizophrenia, however, is far from impossible.

Who is a famous person with schizophrenia? ›

John Nash

The late mathematician and professor John Nash is perhaps most famous for the depiction of his story in the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind.” The film chronicles Nash's experiences with schizophrenia, which is sometimes credited as fueling some of his greatest mathematical breakthroughs.

How do schizophrenics act? ›

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population. When schizophrenia is active, symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, trouble with thinking and lack of motivation.

What do people with schizophrenia see? ›

Hallucinations are “positive” schizophrenia symptoms falling under different categories: Visual hallucinations: This can mean seeing physical objects or people that are not there. It can include loved ones who have died, imaginary characters, or distorted images.

Does schizophrenia get worse with age? ›

People with schizophrenia may be more likely to have conditions that worsen with age, but schizophrenia symptoms may worsen, stay the same, or improve over time. Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that affects how a person interprets reality.

Is schizophrenia inherited from mother or father? ›

Doctor's response. One frequently asked question about schizophrenia is if it is hereditary. As with most other mental disorders, schizophrenia is not directly passed from one generation to another genetically, and there is no single specific cause for this illness.


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