Dementia Praecox: Definition, Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Of Schizophrenia

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry
Updated February 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dementia Praecox is a disused designation now replaced by “schizophrenia.” Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that may impact a person’s thoughts, behavior, speech, and perception of reality. It generally develops between the late teenage years and the mid-30s. 

This article provides a comprehensive overview of schizophrenia, including its definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Help is available for schizophrenia

Definition of dementia praecox (schizophrenia)

The designation "Dementia Praecox" was first used by Emil Kraepelin, a German psychiatrist, in the late 19th century. It described a group of mental disorders with similar symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking.

While dementia praecox may not be in active use, it was once interchangeable with schizophrenia. The designation “schizophrenia” was suggested as an alternate term for dementia praecox in 1918. For modern researchers and mental health professionals, schizophrenia is the accepted term for the disorder once known as dementia praecox.

This article uses the modern designation of schizophrenia and current research about this mental illness.

What is schizophrenia?

According to the American Psychological Association, “schizophrenia is a serious mental illness characterized by incoherent or illogical thoughts, bizarre behavior and speech, and delusions or hallucinations, such as hearing voices. The age of onset is typically between the late teens and mid-30s.”

Causes of schizophrenia

The causes of schizophrenia are unknown. According to the National Health Service, current research suggests that “a combination of physical, genetic, psychological, and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition.”

Some individuals might be prone to schizophrenia due to genetics; others might experience a stressful or emotional life event that triggers the onset of this mental illness. Researchers currently don’t know why some individuals develop schizophrenia symptoms.

Here are some potential risk factors that may increase the likelihood of schizophrenia symptoms: 

  • Genetics: Evidence has not revealed a specific gene responsible for schizophrenia, but it appears to run in families 
  • Brain development: There may be subtle differences in the brain structure of individuals who experience schizophrenia symptoms 
  • Neurotransmitters: Those who experience schizophrenia symptoms might have different amounts of certain neurotransmitters in their brains 
  • Pregnancy and birth complications: People who develop schizophrenia symptoms may be more likely to have experienced difficulties before and during birth, such as low birth weight, premature labor, and lack of oxygen during birth 

Here are some potential life events that may trigger schizophrenia to develop in individuals who are at risk: 

  • Stress: The primary psychological triggers for schizophrenia appear to be stressful life events like divorce, losing a job, losing a home, grief, the end of a relationship, or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse*
  • Substance use: Some research suggests that using drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, LSD, or amphetamines may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia in individuals predisposed to the condition**

These triggers or experiences do not cause schizophrenia. Instead, research suggests that they may trigger its development in individuals who are vulnerable to it. 

*If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Free, one-on-one support is available 24/7.

**If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing or at risk for substance use disorder, reach out for help immediately. The SAMHSA National Helpline can be reached at 1-800-662-4357 and is available 24/7.

Symptoms of schizophrenia 

According to the American Psychological Association, active schizophrenia can be characterized by episodes in which the person cannot distinguish reality from unreal experiences. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms can vary between individuals. As the person ages, the incidence of severe psychotic symptoms may decrease. 

The symptoms of schizophrenia fall into three major categories: 

  • Positive symptoms: Hallucinations such as seeing or hearing things that do not exist, paranoia, and exaggerated or distorted behaviors, beliefs, and perceptions 
  • Negative symptoms: A decrease in the ability to express emotion, speak, initiate plans, or partake in enjoyable activities 
  • Disorganized symptoms: Confused or disordered thinking and speech, bizarre behavior, abnormal movements, and challenges with logical thought processes 

Individuals experiencing schizophrenia symptoms might also struggle with attention, memory, and concentration. 

Treatment of schizophrenia

There is no known cure for schizophrenia at the time of this writing. However, there are treatment options that may help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for many individuals. 

A combination of medication and therapy is a common approach to help manage schizophrenia symptoms. 

  • Medication: Antipsychotic medications may help reduce or control positive symptoms for some individuals. A psychiatrist may need to work with the patient to try different medications and doses to find the most effective option. 
  • Therapy: Individual talk therapy, family therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and social skills training may help individuals who experience schizophrenia learn coping strategies and improve social functioning. 

With treatment, many individuals who experience schizophrenia symptoms can successfully pursue their goals, maintain healthy relationships, and keep stable jobs. 

Online therapy for schizophrenia

Help is available for schizophrenia

Therapy may offer numerous benefits that can improve the overall quality of life for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. Individuals may learn coping skills, improve communication skills, and gain insight into the symptoms they experience. 

Online therapy offers a beneficial option for individuals who would like to partake in treatment from home. It’s often more affordable and provides an opportunity to connect with a broader range of professionals than local options. Like in-person treatment, remote therapy can provide individuals with emotional support and validation, creating a safe and supportive environment for discussing experiences and emotions. 

For individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, reducing symptoms is often one of the primary goals of therapy. Multiple studies have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing positive and negative symptoms. Research shows that online therapy offers the same benefits as traditional treatment. 


Schizophrenia, once known as “Dementia Praecox,” is a severe mental illness that can impact a person's life in many ways. While the exact cause of the disorder is still unknown, research has identified risk factors and triggers that may contribute to its development.

Treatment for the disorder typically involves a combination of medication and therapy, which can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. If you’d like to learn more, get started with BetterHelp, and we’ll connect you with a licensed professional based on your preferences and needs. Most people are connected with a therapist within 48 hours.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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