Tools for Diagnosing Schizophrenia

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Diagnosing schizophrenia is often difficult, especially in teens when it frequently shows up. Many of the symptoms of early schizophrenia resemble normal teenage behavior, such as changing friends, withdrawal from family, problems managing emotions, and difficulty making decisions. The diagnostic process should be thorough in order to insure an accurate diagnosis.


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Diagnostic criteria

Schizophrenia is diagnosed based on the presence of symptoms according the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. A person must have two or more symptoms of hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, being grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior. If a person hears voices, that symptom alone may be enough to diagnose schizophrenia.


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Start with your family doctor

If you suspect you or your child may have schizophrenia, it is best to start with your family doctor to rule out any physical causes. Some medical conditions can mimic symptoms of schizophrenia. For example, brain tumors may cause cognitive issues and behaviors that look similar to schizophrenia according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI.)


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Laboratory and imaging tests

Your doctor may use diagnostic and laboratory tests to rule out other conditions. These may include:

  • Blood test to rule out several conditions, including lead poisoning, thyroid issues, and syphilis.
  • Imaging tests, such as an MRI to rule out brain tumors or brain injury.
  • Electroencephalogram, to monitor brain activity, especially in the case of brain injury or epilepsy.


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Mental health assessment

A psychiatrist can complete a mental health assessment. The doctor will ask about family history of psychosis and discuss the current symptoms. For a diagnosis, symptoms must be present significantly for at least one month and interfere with daily functioning according to Association of American Family Physicians (AAFP). The psychiatrist will rule out other mental health issues with similar symptoms, such as bipolar disorder.


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Disorganized speech

The diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia includes disorganized speech. A psychiatrist checks for rapidly moving through multiple topics and muddled speech, sometimes referred to as word salad according the AAFP.


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Positive and negative symptoms

A positive symptom is one that is not present in people without schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, delusions, and distorted beliefs and behaviors according to the American Psychiatric Association. Negative symptoms are those that take away some type of functioning, such as the inability or difficulty in managing emotions, finding pleasure, or initiating plans.


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Disorganization symptoms

Another set of symptoms doctors check for are disorganized symptoms, which include confused speech, trouble with logical thinking, and bizarre behavior according to the American Psychiatric Association.


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Family questionnaires

Besides an in-depth discussion with the person being evaluated, family members may be asked questions or asked to complete a questionnaire on different behaviors. The doctor will use this information to determine if a diagnosis of schizophrenia is warranted.


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New diagnostic tests may be coming

Currently, there isn’t any laboratory test that can confirm a diagnosis of schizophrenia but researchers at the University of Maryland have developed a blood test to rapidly diagnosis schizophrenia and other mental disorders. This new tool is still being researched but may be available in the future.