Schizophrenia and VCFS
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Never heard of VCFS? You’re not alone. VCFS (Velo-cardio-facial syndrome) is a relatively rare illness affecting one in 5000 children and can remain undiagnosed for years, putting strain on both sufferers and their families.
The interesting aspect of this condition for researchers is that children with VCFS have an almost one in three chance of developing schizophrenia, the latter generally first manifesting between the ages of 15 and 25. VCFS has been a subject of genetic studies and has been isolated to an abnormality on chromosome 22, which in turn assists researchers in the area of schizophrenia to better understand the mechanism of the development of the latter disorder.
Sufferers from this little known condition are often born with congenital heart defects, may also have a cleft palate, and unusually experience learning difficulties. Although heart defects associated with VCFS are customarily picked up early in life, and often involve open heart surgery, correct diagnosis of VCFS can take years.
However, it is the link between VCFS and schizophrenia which currently has researchers in Australia working to establish improved diagnostic methods for identifying sufferers of this illness prior to the onset of schizophrenia.
As previously discussed in What is Schizophrenia? and Schizophrenia: Diagnostic Symptoms, early diagnosis and intervention in schizophrenia is of paramount importance in minimizing the both severity of the illness and the stigma associated with early behavior patterns associate with the onset of the condition. By developing earlier screening tests for VCFS in infants and children, it is hoped that those 30% at risk of going on to develop schizophrenia can be monitored from an early age for the prodromal, or early stages, of schizophrenia and suitable interventions applied.
Families with children who suffer from VCFS and who are subjected to the stress surrounding childhood cardiac and facial surgery will hopefully be able to look forward to better detection methods, both in identifying the presence of VCFS and in identifying at-risk adolescents. The development of this testing would allow vulnerable individuals to avoid potentially risky behaviors, such as marijuana usage, which may trigger a psychotic episode in predisposed individuals.