Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 08, 2018

Is schizophrenia hereditary? It runs in families, but other factors count. Chances of siblings with the disease are not as high as scientists once thought. 

Schizophrenia is a severe psychotic disorder that shows up in about one percent of the population.

Is schizophrenia hereditary?

Although it clearly runs in families, most people with a relative or even a sibling or parent with schizophrenia will not develop the disorder. Other good news is that the estimates of how heritable it is are declining.

Over the years, researchers have found that the chance of one twin suffering from schizophrenia if the other did was anywhere from 44 to 87 percent. The most common figure cited was 81 percent.

A 2012 analysis of records for all people in Denmark found that your chance of suffering from schizophrenia if your parent did was 67 percent.

However, the risk may be lower. A 2014 report from the Consortium on the Genetics of Schizophrenia Family Study in the United States with 16 co-authors and nearly 300 families concluded that the risk of schizophrenia was only 31 percent within a nuclear family. The group’s strategy is to identify endophenotypes — specific symptoms linked to genes. In 2014 the group announced that it had found 12 of these markers. In 2016, it reported on another 13.


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Schizophrenia causes

Linking symptoms to genes is essential because the symptoms can be very different from one patient to another, with different genes, as well as other factors, at play.

Most people begin showing symptoms in their late teens or early 20s, but in some cases the signs appear in the 40s or later. In those patients, one study indicates, the family history of illness was weaker. The patients were more likely to be female, and have other illnesses and stresses like a history of unemployment.

Most likely, several small variations in genes combine to increase the risk of symptoms. Scientists know that experiences like infections in the womb or stress during childhood affect the outcome. For example, a child with a family history of schizophrenia who is also neglected is more likely to become apathetic, losing interest in her usual activities and possibly ending up in bed for much of the day. If she’s not neglected, she might hear voices and show other symptoms but not become apathetic.

A small deletion in a region of chromosome 22 called 22q11 seems to contribute to a small percentage of cases; these patients may also have problems with their heart and immune system and a cleft palate.

Schizophrenia symptoms

Some people hear voices, or they may hallucinate visions, smells, or tactile sensations. They may also hold delusions. A person with schizophrenia might believe he is Jesus or that he’s being controlled by aliens.

Substance abuse and suicidal thoughts and attempts of suicide are more common in this group than the general public.

People with schizophrenia sometimes become “flat” — with few facial expressions — or even completely unresponsive. They may develop movement problems, sometimes as a side effect of medication. They may also have depression and bipolar disorder, and will be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.

Family members of people with schizophrenia can get information and support through the National Alliance on Mental Illness and online forums.


YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Our Schizophrenia blogger, Michael Hedrick


April 01, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN