Risk Factors for Schizophrenia
by Amy Scholten, MPH
A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.
It is possible to develop schizophrenia with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood is of developing schizophrenia. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.
Schizophrenia has a genetic component. People who have a close relative with schizophrenia are more likely to develop the disorder. An identical twin of a person with schizophrenia has the highest risk (40%-50%) of developing the illness. A child whose parent has schizophrenia has about a 10% chance. The risk of schizophrenia in the general population is only about 1%.
Many studies of people with schizophrenia have found abnormalities in:
These abnormalities are quite subtle and are not typical of all people with schizophrenia. They do not occur only in people with this illness. Microscopic studies of brain tissue after death have also shown small changes in certain brain cells in people with schizophrenia. It appears that many (but probably not all) of these changes are present before a person becomes ill. Schizophrenia may be, in part, a disorder in brain development.
Schizophrenia is more common among people living in the city, those who live in the northern hemisphere, and those born during winter months.
Complications During Pregnancy or Birth
Complications during pregnancy or birth may increase an individual’s chances of developing schizophrenia later in life. However, none of the following complications have been proven conclusively:
Loss of Parent During Childhood
Early parental loss, either from death or separation, may increase the risk for schizophrenia (as well as other psychiatric disorders).
Socioeconomic and Cultural Factors
Schizophrenia is much more common in lower socioeconomic classes. It may be a result of increased stress and poor nutrition. An alternative explanation is that people suffering from schizophrenia move downward to a lower social class.
Other factors that may increase your risk of schizophrenia include having an older father and a personal history of marijuana or psychedelic drugs during adolescence or young adulthood.
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Schizophrenia. Mental Health America website. Available at:
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Schizophrenia. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml. Updated February 2016. Accessed March 14, 2017.
Seeber K, Cadenhead KS. How does studying schizotypal personality disorder inform us about the prodrome of schizophrenia? Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2005;7(1):41-50.
Stern TA, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.
Last reviewed March 2017 by Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 3/14/2017
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