Q. My boyfriend (20 years old) and I were talking today, and he toldme about his childhood. His father was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when he was inhis early 20s. He was very violent (ie he threw and hit him with a TV), and did other things to make him mad (such as taking away the brand new Nintendo he bought, disappearing for a night, and telling him he put it in a dumpster). He would disappear during nights a lot. His father did not get along with his sister, and they got into many arguements, because she loved to make him mad (as all sisters do). He got so mad at her once that he even threw her through a door. However, he is better now, and he has been taking medications to help. My boyfriend told me that his whole family is concerned that he will get Schizophrenia, because they say it’s genetic. Is that true? And if it is, is there any way to prevent it from happening?

A. No one knows for sure if schizophrenia is genetic. There are still many theories about what causes schizophrenia and no one theory has been proven as the cause. The prevailing theory is that schizophrenia is a brain disease. It is also believed that stress and environment can play a role in the development of schizophrenia.

Research does show that children who have a parent with schizophrenia have a 13% to 15% increase risk for getting schizophrenia but just because a parent has schizophrenia does not mean their offspring will get it. Schizophrenia, if it strikes usually begins in early adulthood between the ages of 18 and 25 for males. Men tend to develop schizophrenia earlier than women.

The symptoms may include a combination of positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms might include paranoia and having delusions and negative symptoms may include lack of emotions and a decrease in social functioning. Other symptoms might include grandiose thinking and difficulty concentrating.

It is hard to say if your boyfriend will get schizophrenia. You did not mention if he was having any symptoms so I am not exactly sure why his family is concerned about him getting it. If he is having symptoms and is concerned with developing schizophrenia, he should make an appointment with a psychiatrist to verify a diagnosis. I do not know if there is a way to prevent schizophrenia but I would recommend that if he is having symptoms, to go to a psychiatrist. The earlier that schizophrenia is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome could be for him and his family. If he does have schizophrenia, getting early treatment can significantly improve his chances of decreasing symptoms and moving him towards recovery. The key is getting diagnosed and treated early.