Schizophrenia is one of the most frightening psychiatric diagnoses.
It is a chronic condition affecting about one per cent of the population and is associated with some of the most notorious symptoms of mental illness – hallucinations and delusions.
Schizophrenia is troubling because it often begins when a person is in the prime of his or her life and can distort one’s ability to tell what is real and what is not
Schizophrenia can be difficult to treat and its causes and triggers are still a mystery.
A large-scale study published in 2014 in Nature has brought us a little bit closer to understanding this complex disease.
A collaborative group of researchers examined the genetic codes of more than 150,000 people. Roughly 37,000 were diagnosed with schizophrenia and results found 108 genetic markers for the risk of getting the disease.
This is a big finding because the majority of these markers had not previously been reported.
Most people will have some of these genetic markers and still not develop schizophrenia, but this study did find that those with the most markers were 15 times more likely to develop the disease than those with fewer of them.
This is very interesting and provides some insight into genetic vs. environmental triggers for the condition.
We have long known there seems to be a link between the immune system and schizophrenia.
Families with autoimmune disorders appear to be at increased risk and there is a link between viral infections during pregnancy and higher rates of schizophrenia in offspring.
The markers identified in this study confirm this immune system link. Researchers associated with the study say it is now very clear the immune system is involved with the condition.
Although it will still be many years before this information can lead to new treatments for schizophrenia, it is a piece in the ongoing puzzle.
There is still much to learn, but when scientists from around the world work together and pool data from many thousands of people, it certainly allows our understanding to move forward much more quickly than when we work in isolation.
I look forward to seeing more results from this group and others as we continue to unlock the mystery of schizophrenia.
In the meantime, there are treatments available that help many with this frightening condition. If you are concerned for yourself or a loved one, contact your doctor now for help.