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Glossary of Terms

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2023

Schizophrenia can be a hard health issue to understand. There are many terms that describe its treatments, symptoms, and more. Trying to keep them all straight can be confusing or overwhelming.

To help, we have defined a few common terms related to schizophrenia.1-11

A

Active phase

The phase of schizophrenia when psychosis is experienced. Psychosis involves having severe hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts or speech.

Anosognosia

When a person is unaware that they are having symptoms. This experience is common in schizophrenia. For example, a person may be told they are having a hallucination and not believe it. Instead, they believe their behaviors are reasonable and necessary.

Antipsychotic drugs

The most commonly used drugs used to treat schizophrenia. These drugs affect chemicals called neurotransmitters in the body. They are also used to treat other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder or severe depression. Antipsychotics can be very helpful, but they can have serious side effects.

B

Brief psychotic disorder

An episode of psychosis or symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia that last less than 1 month. These may be related to drug side effects, other health conditions, or severe stress.

C

Catatonia

A unique set of symptoms that can come along with schizophrenia or other health issues. Many symptoms involve abnormal body movements or speech changes. They can include lacking speech, mimicking others, holding awkward body postures for long periods, or making uncomfortable facial expressions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

A type of talk therapy focused on identifying, challenging, and changing behaviors. It is performed by a trained professional. CBT and antipsychotic drugs are used together to treat schizophrenia.

Coordinated specialty care

Team-based treatment of psychosis as quickly as possible after an episode. This is especially important after a person’s first episode of psychosis. The faster psychosis is recognized and treated, the better the outcome will be. Therapy, family support, prescription drugs, social support, and more are all part of this care.

D

Delusions

Firm beliefs about the world that are false. Delusions can be considered bizarre, like aliens taking over the world, or nonbizarre, like a spouse cheating. Delusions may center on having superpowers or being followed. Even when their delusion is disproven, people with schizophrenia may still believe it.

Delusional disorder

A mental health condition on the schizophrenia spectrum. It is characterized by the presence of delusions without significant hallucinations or other schizophrenia symptoms.

DSM-5

The most recent edition (5th) of a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM was created by the American Psychiatric Association. It outlines all the symptoms needed to diagnose different mental health conditions. It is updated every few years.

E

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

A type of treatment that involves delivering electrical impulses to the brain. These impulses cause controlled seizures. ECT may be used for treatment-resistant schizophrenia and other disorders, which means that antipsychotic drugs are not working alone. ECT is done in special centers by trained professionals and include medicines to ensure comfort.

Extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS)

Involuntary movements that are a side effect of antipsychotic drugs. Examples include the inability to stay still, involuntary muscle contractions or facial expressions, and symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. Some of these issues can be permanent and should be discussed with your provider.

F

First-generation (typical) antipsychotics

Older antipsychotic drugs that block the effect of the neurotransmitter dopamine. They mostly target positive symptoms of schizophrenia, like hallucinations and delusions. These drugs lead to efficacy on positive symptoms more often than newer medicines and are not usually the first choice of providers. They are also called typical antipsychotics.

H

Hallucinations

A symptom of psychosis. Hallucinations involve sensing things that are not real. Any sense (hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, or tasting) can be involved. Examples are hearing voices when alone or feeling imaginary things on the skin.

M

Mental status exam (MSE)

A structured assessment tool used by mental health professionals to evaluate a person’s current mental and emotional state. It is a key component of the diagnostic process and treatment planning for various mental health conditions, including schizophrenia.

During an MSE, the clinician observes and assesses appearance, behavior, thought processes, mood, affect, perception, cognition, insight, and judgment. The exam aims to provide a comprehensive snapshot of the person's mental functioning at the time of assessment.

Metabolic syndrome

Changes in hormone, sugar, and fat balance in the body (metabolism dysfunction). Often characterized by weight gain. These changes can be side effects of some antipsychotic drugs. They can increase the risk of developing diabetes or other health issues.

N

Negative symptoms

Symptoms of schizophrenia that represent the absence of typical behavior. Examples include lack of motivation, inability to feel pleasure, decreased desire to socialize, and decreased speech. These are some of the first signs of schizophrenia and can be present throughout treatment. They can be subtle at first and last a long time.

Neurotransmitters

Chemicals in the brain that send messages to one another. These messengers help you think, speak, and function. They also play a role in mood and emotion. Examples of neurotransmitters include dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate.

P

Positive symptoms

Symptoms of active schizophrenia (psychosis) that people without illness do not experience. Examples include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thought or speech.

Prodromal phase

The first phase of schizophrenia. It is the time between the first symptoms appearing and the first episode of psychosis. Symptoms during this phase may be mild and hard to notice. When psychosis begins, the person enters the active phase.

Psychosis

A period of time in which a person loses touch with reality. It can be caused by stress, drug side effects, or health conditions like schizophrenia. Some people return to their regular mental state after an episode of psychosis. Others have a decline in thinking and functioning over a long time.

R

Remission

A period of 6 months or more with no, or only mild, schizophrenia symptoms.

Residual phase

The phase of schizophrenia after an episode of psychosis (the active phase) ends. Negative symptoms or mild positive symptoms still can occur. But some people have no symptoms and enter remission. The residual phase can last months or years.

S

Schizophrenia

A mental health condition where a person has trouble connecting with reality. They may have episodes of psychosis that include hallucinations and delusions. Symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and interfere with daily life to lead to a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia spectrum disorders

A term used to describe a group of related mental health conditions that share certain characteristics with schizophrenia. These disorders encompass a range of symptoms, severity, and functional impairments, but they all involve disturbances in thinking, emotions, perception, and behavior. The term "spectrum" means that people may experience symptoms to varying degrees, from mild to severe.

Schizoaffective disorder

A mental health condition that combines symptoms of schizophrenia with a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder.

Schizophreniform disorder

A mental health condition similar to schizophrenia but that only lasts between 1 and 6 months. Some people with schizophreniform disorder will go on to have schizophrenia. Others will return to their prior mental state.

Second-generation (atypical) antipsychotics

Newer antipsychotic drugs that affect the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. In some areas of the brain, they block signals coming from these chemicals. In other areas, they increase signaling. This combination helps target more symptoms, both positive and negative, than older drugs can. These drugs are also called atypical antipsychotics.

T

Treatment adherence

Sticking to a treatment plan over the long term. Adhering to a treatment plan includes taking all drugs as a doctor has prescribed and regularly participating in therapy.

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