Oct 6th 2023
Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder that disrupts one’s ability to distinguish between reality and what is perceived as reality. There are three stages of schizophrenia: prodromal, active, and residual. Each of these schizophrenia stages has different features with varying levels of symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness, yet how it affects people changes over time. These changes often occur in a sequence of three stages, including prodromal, active, and residual. These three phases of schizophrenia usually appear in order, and they repeat themselves.
As with any mental illness, the particular way these phases of schizophrenia play out is highly individualized. Where one person might have a lengthy prodromal stage, another might experience a very short prodromal stage and a prolonged active phase.
Despite these individual differences, each person experiences the same phases of schizophrenia. More details about each of these stages are outlined below.
The early stages of schizophrenia are referred to as the prodromal stage. This is when the first signs of mental illness begin to emerge. During this time the symptoms typically present as more general symptoms that can be associated with other mental illnesses, making the identification of schizophrenia at this stage very difficult.
Generally speaking, the behaviors exhibited during the early stages of schizophrenia fall into one of several categories: mood symptoms (e.g., anxiety), cognitive symptoms (e.g., difficulty concentrating), social withdrawal, and positive symptoms (e.g., mild hallucinations). Also common are erratic or obsessive behaviors, dysphoria, and superstitiousness.
Another component of the prodromal phase is a loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities. This may or may not be paired with a withdrawal from loved ones. In either case, these behaviors typically indicate depression and other mood disorders , which can “mask” the true nature of the symptoms as something other than schizophrenia.
Adding to the difficulty of identifying schizophrenia in its earliest stages is that, for many people, these changes and symptoms happen gradually. For some, it might be a process of months or years during which these symptoms worsen. However, this stage usually occurs in males aged 15-25 and females aged 25-35. Eventually, most people with schizophrenia exit the prodromal stage and enter the next of the three phases of schizophrenia: the active stage.
The active stage of schizophrenia is when classic psychotic symptoms emerge. As noted earlier, many people gradually get to this point. Others, though, experience psychosis much more quickly. In either case, this is the most troublesome of the schizophrenia stages because the symptoms are severe, frequent, and numerous. These symptoms include:
Again, like in the early stages of schizophrenia, the symptoms of the active stage can sometimes be mistaken for another mental illness, particularly other forms of psychosis. In particular, negative symptoms can make it seem like someone in the active stage of schizophrenia is in a major depressive episode.
During the residual stage of schizophrenia, patients experience fewer symptoms and less severe symptoms, not unlike the prodromal stage. The severe symptoms of psychosis, like hallucinations and delusions, gradually disappear, but other, less severe symptoms usually persist, including the following:
Some patients might have one or two cycles of these schizophrenia stages in their lifetime. Others might have far more than that. It’s not entirely understood why this is, but it is known that with more cycles of the three stages of schizophrenia, the symptoms in the residual stage increase. This can lead to a marked decrease in a person’s ability to function independently.
Though schizophrenia is a severe, chronic mental illness, treatment can be highly effective. However, treatment is most effective when it’s undertaken during the earliest signs of schizophrenia. The sooner treatment begins, the less likely a patient is to experience another active phase of the disorder and the less likely they are to experience increasingly severe residual symptoms.
There are many options available to treat schizophrenia. Some of the most common are outlined below:
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