A reliable cause or sets of causes for schizophrenia have not yet been identified, but current research suggests that the disease is the result of a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. In other words, schizophrenia can occur due to the combination of inherited and acquired brain vulnerabilities as well as stressful life-events.
It is common scientific knowledge that schizophrenia runs in families. The risk of schizophrenia occurrence is as high as 10 per cent in people who have schizophrenia in their immediate family, such as parent or sibling. The risk decreases but is still present in members of extended family and increases to as high as 40-65 per cent for the identical twin of a schizophrenia patient.
However faulty genes alone will not cause schizophrenia. For schizophrenia to occur, genetic factors have to be combined with any of several environmental factors such as prenatal exposure to viruses or malnutrition, problems during birth, and stressful environments in adult life. It has been suggested by some researchers that problems during prenatal brain development lead to faulty connections that are inactive until puberty when the brain undergoes major changes which trigger schizophrenia symptoms. Stressful life events have been shown to trigger schizophrenia or cause relapses. In common with other forms of mental illness, abuse as a child and early traumatic experiences have also been suggested as factors that contribute to the risk of developing schizophrenia in later life.
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Recent research on schizophrenia has focused on the role of dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters that the nerve cells use to communicate with each other. It has been found that some people with schizophrenia may either have too many dopamine receptors, or else have receptors that are overly sensitive to dopamine. As a result, the brain of a person who has schizophrenia may receive too many messages which compete in some way with signals transmitted through other chemical pathways, and may result in the production of psychotic symptoms. However, we should keep in mind that this theory, while useful, does not explain everything.