Psychotic disorders do have familial risks

It has long been observed that children of parents with schizophrenia and other disorders involving psychosis seem to be more likely than average to develop similar disorders themselves.

Research has also shown there is a familial link, but to date there has been little study into the specificity of risk or observance of these children into their mid-adulthood as most studies stop following the individuals once they get through the mid-twenties when onset peaks for these conditions.

A recently published study examined these things and found that children are indeed at a significantly higher risk of developing the same condition their parents have.

Compared with controls, offspring of parents with schizophrenia psychosis spectrum have six times the risk of developing the disorder themselves and a doubled risk for developing affective psychoses (such as bipolar disorder).

Children of parents with an affective psychosis had a 14-fold elevated risk for a similar condition compared with controls and a doubled risk for schizophrenia psychosis spectrum disorder.

The study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry this year, examined 203 high risk offspring of parents with psychoses and 147 offspring of control parents. These individuals were followed into their mid-adulthood because although the peak age of onset for these conditions is between 18 and 30, sometimes a person is not affected until their 30s or 40s.

As our understanding of human genetics grows, we are learning more about the cause of many psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia. Although we now know genetics do play an important role in this condition, this does not account for all cases of schizophrenia or psychosis. Other causes are still unclear but likely involve a combination of biological and environmental factors.

There is no cure for schizophrenia. Anti-psychotic medication can control symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, but other hallmarks of schizophrenia such as lack of motivation and blunted emotions may not respond as well to medication.

When symptoms begin, it is important to seek treatment as early as possible. Obviously, this disease is very upsetting to the individuals experiencing it and the sooner it is treated, the better. There is also a belief (supported by some research) that early intervention may lead to better functioning and more independence in the long run.

Schizophrenia tends to develop slowly as a gradual deterioration in the brain’s ability to process information or communicate with itself. Because of this gradual onset, family members may think the individual is simply going through a phase or rebelling and may not realize for some time that there is a serious problem.

Some early warning signs to be aware of include: bizarre or unusual behaviour; an inability to sleep or mixing up of day and night; social withdrawal or isolation; hyperactivity or inactivity; inability to concentrate; unusual preoccupation with religion or the occult; hostility, suspicion or fearfulness; over-reaction to peer or family disapproval; deterioration in personal hygiene; excessive writing or childlike printing with no clear meaning; flat, expressionless gaze; and peculiar use of language.

Although one of these symptoms in itself may not constitute a serious problem, if you have a loved one who is exhibiting several of these behaviours, it may be worthwhile to seek medical advice.

Certainly, if you have a parent with a psychotic disorder, you are at increased risk of developing the condition yourself. If you notice any of the above symptoms, speak with your doctor about it.


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