Schizophrenic Break

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The term "schizophrenic break" refers to an episode of acute psychosis in someone with schizophrenia. A schizophrenic break precedes an official diagnosis of schizophrenia, but is rarely the first symptom of the disorder. People with mild cases of schizophrenia that respond well to continued treatment may only ever have one schizophrenic break, but it is more common to see alternating periods of relatively few symptoms (residual phases) and periods of active psychosis.

Before experiencing a psychotic break, schizophrenic patients often experience a prodromal phase during which they have less severe symptoms of psychosis. These may include anxiety, restlessness, hallucinations, delusions, and a gradual loss of reality. Even though schizophrenic patients are experiencing odd thoughts and strange symptoms during this early prodromal phase, their inner turmoil may not be apparent to observers. It isn’t until the symptoms strengthen and become overwhelming that the schizophrenic individual begins to act in a bizarre way that reflects their odd perceptions.

People experiencing a schizophrenic break display outward symptoms like changes in self-care, unusual eating or sleeping patterns, changes in work or school performance, lack of energy, headaches, and behavior that seems confused or bizarre. Usually by the time these outward symptoms are noticed by family and friends, the schizophrenic individual has already experienced a break with reality. This is called active-phase or florid psychosis, and it is usually the event that leads to a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Psychotic breaks can happen more or less on their own, but they are also known to be triggered by stressful environmental events as well as psychoactive drugs. For people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, adherence to a treatment plan may help avoid future schizophrenic breaks.