What age do schizophrenic symptoms start?

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. The age when schizophrenic symptoms start can vary, but studies show that schizophrenia typically emerges in late adolescence to early adulthood.

Quick Answers

The average age when schizophrenic symptoms start is:

  • Men: 18-25 years old
  • Women: 25-35 years old

Prodromal symptoms can start years earlier, often in adolescence.

The active psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia usually emerge between the late teens and mid-30s.

Onset before puberty is rare, but possible in some cases.

Age of Onset

Schizophrenia onset typically occurs during late adolescence to early adulthood. Various studies have established the average age range of initial manifestation of schizophrenia to be:

  • Men – 18-25 years
  • Women – 25-35 years

This means that a first psychotic episode and diagnosis often occurs in this age bracket. The onset is about 5 years earlier for men compared to women on average.

Early Onset

Although less common, schizophrenia can emerge in childhood or early teens, referred to as early onset. Early onset schizophrenia affects about 1 in 10,000 children. It is defined as onset occurring before the age of 13 years old.

Very Early Onset

Extremely rare cases may show symptoms before puberty, known as very early onset. This affects less than 1 in 40,000 children. Very early onset is onset before the age of 10 years old.

Late Onset

Late onset after the age of 40 is uncommon but can happen in about 5% of schizophrenia cases. It is sometimes referred to as late paraphrenia.

Prodromal Phase

Before the active psychotic symptoms emerge, many individuals experience early warning signs called the prodromal phase. This can begin years before the diagnosable disorder appears. Prodromal symptoms may start in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.

Common prodromal symptoms include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Decline in self-care
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Suspiciousness or unease around others
  • Irritability or heightened sensitivity
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Odd beliefs or magical thinking
  • Odd or disjointed speech

The prodromal stage represents the early signs of the illness taking root. Many individuals do not seek help at this point as the symptoms may be vague or not severe enough to raise major concerns. But identifying and addressing issues in the prodromal phase may help reduce the severity of later psychosis.

Positive and Negative Symptoms

The active phase of schizophrenia involves positive and negative symptoms:

  • Positive symptoms – Psychotic behaviors added to the person’s personality. These include:
    • Delusions
    • Hallucinations
    • Disorganized thinking and speech
    • Grossly disorganized behavior
  • Negative symptoms – Diminishment of normal functions. These include:
    • Flat affect and lack of emotion
    • Anhedonia or inability to experience pleasure
    • Social withdrawal and isolation
    • Loss of motivation
    • Difficulty functioning normally

Positive symptoms tend to be episodic while negative symptoms are more persistent. The interplay of positive and negative symptoms contributes to functional impairment associated with schizophrenia. Treatment aims to manage both types of symptoms.

When to Seek Help

It is important to seek professional assessment if you notice potential early warning signs of schizophrenia in a child or young adult. While many factors can cause changes in thoughts, feelings or behavior, abrupt shifts warrant evaluation.

Seeking help promptly at the first signs of psychosis leads to earlier diagnosis and treatment which improves prognosis. Look for changes like:

  • Confused thinking
  • Delusions or false beliefs
  • Hallucinations – hearing or seeing things that are not there
  • Incoherent speech
  • Erratic behavior

Sudden onset of such symptoms, especially in late adolescence or early adulthood, should prompt medical attention. Getting a psychiatric assessment and diagnosis is the first step in the treatment process.


There are no blood tests or biological markers for schizophrenia – diagnosis is based on clinical assessment of reported and observed thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Diagnostic criteria per the DSM-5 include:

  • At least two of the following active symptoms for one month, with signs persisting for at least six months:
    • Delusions
    • Hallucinations
    • Disorganized speech or behavior
    • Negative symptoms
  • Social/occupational dysfunction due to symptoms
  • Disturbance persists for at least six months
  • No other medical condition or substance effects can explain the disturbance

A comprehensive medical history, psychiatric evaluation, physical exam and lab tests are done to rule out other potential causes. Input from friends and family members provides additional context about symptoms and functional impairment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Schizophrenia is considered a complex brain disorder with multiple contributing factors, both genetic and environmental.

Genetic Factors

Genetics play a strong role, as seen from high heritability patterns and increased risk with family history of psychosis. Those with a first-degree relative with schizophrenia have a 10 times higher chance of developing it. However, no single gene directly causes it.

Environmental Factors

Various environmental exposures may also contribute to schizophrenia vulnerability. These include:

  • Prenatal viral infections
  • Obstetric complications
  • Childhood trauma or neglect
  • Drug use
  • Social isolation
  • Urban upbringing

However, most people with these risk factors do not develop schizophrenia, indicating complex interactions between predisposing genes and environmental influences.

Brain Changes

Imbalances in brain chemistry and structure are believed to underlie schizophrenia. Areas affected include the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, dopamine and glutamate activity.

Treatment and Prognosis

Early diagnosis and a combination of treatments provides the best opportunity for management of schizophrenia symptoms and improvement in long-term prognosis.


Antipsychotic medications are the first line of treatment to reduce the acute psychotic symptoms and prevent recurrence of episodes. These drugs help balance neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin in the brain.

Psychosocial Interventions

Therapy, counseling, social skills training, employment support and other psychosocial interventions are key to improving functioning and quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy in particular can teach coping strategies.

Community Support

Ongoing community care in the form of psychiatric rehabilitation, support groups and crisis services help people with schizophrenia manage their condition, achieve recovery goals and avoid hospitalization. Long-term coordinated specialty care is recommended.


In severe cases with safety concerns, inpatient hospitalization may be needed during acute psychotic episodes or mental health crises until symptoms stabilize.


When treated, the prognosis of schizophrenia can range from full recovery to various levels of lifelong disability. With comprehensive treatment starting early, the long-term outlook can be positive. About a fifth to a third of people achieve remission of symptoms while many others are able to manage symptoms and improve functioning to lead productive lives.


In summary, the age when schizophrenia symptoms emerge is typically late adolescence to early adulthood, from 18-35 years old. Prodromal phase symptoms can appear years earlier. While onset in childhood or after 40 is less common, it can occur. Getting assessment and treatment at the first signs of psychosis leads to better outcomes. Schizophrenia requires ongoing management but many people can regain a good quality of life.

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