Diagnosing schizophrenia as early as possible helps minimize the toll the neurological disorder takes on the body and the mind. Unfortunately the condition's signs can be difficult to spot in the early stages.

That's why researchers led by a team from the Indiana University School of Medicine have developed a test which offers a relatively simple and reliable way to check for current schizophrenia severity and future risk.

"Psychosis usually manifests in young adulthood – a prime period of life," says neuroscientist Alexander Niculescu from the Indiana University School of Medicine. "Stress and drugs, including marijuana, are precipitating factors on a background of genetic vulnerability."

"If left unchecked, psychosis leads to accumulating biological damage, social damage and psychological damage."

Schizophrenia essentially interferes with the brain's ability to process reality consistently, and it can come with problems with motor control too. While we don't fully understand how it starts, there are treatments available to help manage it.

The blood test works by looking for physical changes in the body known as biomarkers that point to psychosis. The researchers used a decade of data on psychiatric patients, matching symptoms like hallucinations and delusional states to chemical biomarkers in the blood.

With enough data to work with, they were able to flip the system and accurately predict schizophrenia states and future risk from blood tests. It's a valuable, objective measure that doesn't rely on lengthy assessments or psychological analysis.

Even better, some of the biomarkers highlighted by the researchers are already being targeted by drugs prescribed for other conditions, which could potentially speed up their development in relation to schizophrenia.

"Fortunately, biologically some of the existing medications work quite well if initiated early in the right patients," says Niculescu. "Social support is also paramount, and once that and medications are in place, psychological support and therapy can help as well."

The researchers point to more than 3 million people with schizophrenia in the US alone as an indication of how useful these findings could be, both in terms of diagnosing schizophrenia and in matching patients with the right treatments.

There's still a lot of work to do here, not least examining how blood biomarkers might be affected in people with other conditions as well as schizophrenia, but the research team is hopeful that tests can be officially rolled out at some point this year.

"There is still plenty left to understand and apply about cognition and its abnormalities, but there is reason for optimism in this era of emerging precision psychiatry," says Niculescu.

The research has been published in Molecular Psychiatry.