Gender Differences in Schizophrenia

By

Gina Garippo

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If you or a loved one has schizophrenia, you know that many different factors can affect your disease. These include your genetics, the medications you take, and your environment, among others. But did you know that your gender also has an impact on the disease? Here’s how men and women differ when it comes to schizophrenia.

Men Develop Schizophrenia Earlier

Although the typical age people develop schizophrenia is between 16 and 30, studies show that the illness usually occurs several years earlier in men than women. This may be because the development of schizophrenia is linked to hormonal and physical changes, such as during puberty. The female hormone estrogen has been shown to have a protective effect against schizophrenia. As a result, the hormone in young women may help ward off the illness for a few years.

Women’s Illness Closely Tied to Hormones

Not only do the protective qualities of estrogen work to delay the development of schizophrenia in women, estrogen also affects how a woman experiences symptoms. For example, because of the higher levels of estrogen present during childbearing years, women may have less intense symptoms during this time than men. They may also respond better to antipsychotic medication and have overall better management of the illness.

However, when estrogen levels drop naturally, such as after childbirth or during menopause, women are at higher risk for schizophrenia or a relapse and may require higher doses of medication.

Hope for Both Genders

By analyzing gender differences among people with schizophrenia, experts have learned about the role of estrogen in treating the illness. This potential treatment offers hope to women as well as men. Studies are under way to test the effectiveness of using estrogen replacement therapy in addition to antipsychotic medication for treating schizophrenia in both genders. However, more research is needed before a treatment recommendation can be made.

Key Takeaways

  • Schizophrenia usually occurs several years earlier in men than women. The female hormone estrogen may help ward off the illness in women for a few years.

  • Estrogen also affects how a woman experiences symptoms. For example, during childbearing years, women may respond better to antipsychotic medication.

  • Studies are under way to test the effectiveness of estrogen replacement therapy for treating schizophrenia in both genders.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 11, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Combination of Estrogen and Antipsychotics in the Treatment of Women with Chronic Schizophrenia. E. Ghafari et al. Clinical Schizophrenia & Related Psychoses. January 2013, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 172-6.;
  2. Role of Estrogen Treatment in the Management of Schizophrenia. Kulkarni J ,et al. CNS Drugs. July 2012, Vol. 26, no 7, pp. 549-57.;
  3. Schizophrenia, National Institutes of Health. Accessed January 23, 2014 (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml);
  4. Schizophrenia, Mental Health America. Accessed January 23, 2014 (http://www.nmha.org/conditions/schizophrenia#schizophrenia);

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