The symptoms of schizophrenia can either come on very slowly (insidious onset), which or more common, or very rapidly whereby patients experience a full-blown acute episode with very few early warning signs. Early schizophrenia symptoms are referred to as “prodomal” and can be present for many years prior to the onset of the illness, but because these symptoms are easily mistaken for other problems, there is a high level of misdiagnosis in schizophrenia patients.
What are examples of early schizophrenia symptoms?
The symptoms of schizophrenia are divided into positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations and delusions whereas negative symptoms include changes in mood, motivation, and a withdrawal from everyday life. Early symptoms and signs of schizophrenia are usually in the negative category of symptoms and these can be present for several years before the patient deteriorates and has a psychotic episode.
In the early stages of the illness, the most noticeable symptom is a subtle change in behaviour and thought patterns. The person might go from being an out-going, happy and sociable individual, to a withdrawn, morose and apathetic person. Unfortunately, because the illness usually affects young people in their teens and early twenties, these symptoms are often attributed to the normal behaviour expected from adolescents, which is why the illness can go sometimes undiagnosed for a long time.
Other common early schizophrenia symptoms
Appetite problems are common in the early stages of the illness. The patient might lose all interest in food as part of their general state of depression and apathy, or they might complain that food is tasting “funny” or is contaminated in some way.
People in the early stages of schizophrenia often suffer from sleep problems and stop taking care of their personal hygiene and clothes. They might stop sleeping at night, but spend all day in bed in a state of apathy or “zoned out”. They might also begin to behave in an increasingly strange fashion, such as laughing at inappropriate times or staring into space for hours. As the illness progresses, the patient might begin to hear voices in their head or become increasingly paranoid and suspicious of those around them.
Early schizophrenia symptoms in children
Schizophrenia is very rare in children. Childhood onset schizophrenia would be diagnosed when a child younger than twelve is affected, but the symptoms are the same as those seen in teenagers and adults.
Depression and social withdrawal are typical features of schizophrenia in children and teenagers. The child might go from being happy and well adjusted with good grades, to a child who cannot concentrate in class and starts to fall behind in their work. Other early warning signs in children in the preliminary stages of schizophrenia include language problems, inappropriate emotional responses, bizarre behaviour and a decline in cognitive function.
What is the importance of spotting early signs and symptoms of schizophrenia?
Over time, symptoms of schizophrenia will gradually worsen and eventually the positive symptoms supersede negative symptoms and the person will experience an acute psychotic episode of schizophrenia. Consequently, it is important that early symptoms of schizophrenia are recognised as early treatment is usually much more effective and the outlook more positive when schizophrenia is detected early.