Schizophrenia (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What are treatments for schizophrenia and the side effects of those treatments?

Medications

While there are a number of helpful treatments available, medication remains the cornerstone of treatment for people with schizophrenia. These medications are often referred to as antipsychotics since they help decrease the intensity of psychotic symptoms. Many health-care professionals prescribe one of these medications, sometimes in combination of one or more other psychiatric medications, in order to maximize the benefit for the person with schizophrenia.

Medications that are thought to be particularly effective in treating positive symptoms of schizophrenia include olanzapine (Zyprexa), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), ziprasidone (Geodon), aripiprazole (Abilify), paliperidone (Invega), asenapine (Saphis), lurasidone (Latuda), and lloperidone (Fanapt). These medications are the newer group of antipsychotic medications, also called second-generation antipsychotics. They are known for having the ability to work quickly compared to many other psychiatric medications. As a group of medications, side effects that occur most often include sleepiness, dizziness, and increased appetite. Weight gain, which may be associated with higher blood sugar levels, elevated blood lipid levels, and sometimes increased levels of a hormone called prolactin, may also occur. Although older antipsychotic medications in this class like haloperidol (Haldol), perphenazine (Trilafon), and molindone (Moban) are more likely to cause muscle stiffness, shakiness, and very rarely uncoordinated muscle twitches (tardive dyskinesia) that can be permanent, health-care practitioners appropriately monitor the people they treat for these potential side effects as well. Also, more recent research regarding all antipsychotic medication seems to demonstrate that the older (first-generation) antipsychotics are just as effective as the newer ones and have no higher rate of people stopping treatment because of any side effect the medications cause. Not all medications that treat schizophrenia in adults have been approved for use in treating childhood schizophrenia.

Mood-stabilizer medications like lithium (Lithobid), divalproex (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and lamotrigine (Lamictal) can be useful in treating mood swings that sometimes occur in individuals who have a diagnosable mood disorder in addition to psychotic symptoms (for example, schizoaffective disorder, depression in addition to schizophrenia). These medications may take a bit longer to work compared to the antipsychotic medications. Some (for example, lithium, divalproex, and carbamazepine) require monitoring of medication blood levels, and some can be associated with birth defects when taken by pregnant women.

Antidepressant medications are the primary medical treatment for the depression that can often accompany schizophrenia. Examples of antidepressants that are commonly prescribed for that purpose include serotonergic (SSRI) medications that affect serotonin levels like fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro); combination serotonergic/adrenergic medications (SNRIs) like venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta), as well as bupropion (Wellbutrin), which is a dopaminergic (affecting dopamine levels) antidepressant medication.

Despite its stigmatized history, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be a viable treatment for people whose schizophrenia has inadequately responded to a number of medication trials and psychosocial interventions.

When treating pregnant individuals with schizophrenia, health-care practitioners take great care to balance the need to maintain the person's more stable thoughts and behavior while minimizing the risks that medications used to treat this disorder may present. While some medications that treat schizophrenia may carry risks to the fetus in pregnancy and during breastfeeding, careful monitoring of how much medication is administered and the health of the fetus and of the mother can go a long way toward protecting the fetus from any such risks, while maximizing the chance that the fetus will grow in the healthier environment afforded by an emotionally healthy mother.

Psychosocial interventions

Family psycho-education: In addition to educating family members about the symptoms, course, and treatment of schizophrenia, this form of treatment consists of providing family support, problem-solving skills, and access to care providers during times of crises. When this intervention is consistently provided for at least several months, it has been found to decrease the relapse rate for the individual with schizophrenia and improve the person's social and emotional outcomes. Also, the burden that family members experience as a result of having a loved one with schizophrenia is lessened, family members tend to be more knowledgeable about the disorder and feel more supported by the professionals involved, and family relationships are improved.

Assertive community treatment (ACT): This intervention consists of members of the person's treatment team meeting with that individual on a daily basis, in community settings (for example, home, work, or other places the person with schizophrenia frequents) rather than in an office or hospital setting. The treatment team is made up of a variety of professionals. For example, a psychiatrist, nurse, case manager, employment counselor, and substance-abuse counselor often make up an ACT team. ACT tends to be successful in reducing how often people with schizophrenia are hospitalized or become homeless.

Substance abuse treatment: Providing medical and psychosocial interventions that address substance abuse should be an integral part of treatment as about 50% of individuals with schizophrenia suffer from some kind of substance abuse or dependence.

Social skills training: Also called illness management and recovery programming, social-skills training involves teaching clients ways to handle social situations appropriately. It often involves the person scripting (thinking through or role-playing) situations that occur in social settings in order to prepare for those situations when they actually occur. This treatment type has been found to help people with schizophrenia resist using drugs of abuse, as well as improve their relationships with health-care professionals and with people at work.

Supported employment: This intervention provides supports like a work coach (someone who periodically or consistently counsels the client in the workplace), as well as instruction on constructing a résumé, interviewing for jobs, and education and support for employers to hire individuals with chronic mental illness. Supported employment has been found to help schizophrenia sufferers secure employment, earn more money, and increase the number of hours they are able to work.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a reality-based intervention that focuses on helping a client understand and change patterns that tend to interfere with his or her ability to interact with others and otherwise function. Except for people who are actively psychotic, CBT has been found to help individuals with schizophrenia decrease symptoms and improve their ability to function socially. This intervention can be done either individually or in group sessions.

Weight management: Educating people with schizophrenia about weight gain and related health problems that can be a side effect of some antipsychotic and other psychiatric medications has been found to be helpful in resulting in a modest weight loss. That is also true when schizophrenia sufferers are provided with behavioral interventions to assist with weight loss.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/11/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Schizophrenia - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe your experience with schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia - Treatments Question: What treatments have been effective for your schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia - In Children Question: What were your child's symptoms of shizophrenia? Please share your story.
Schizophrenia - Symptoms Question: Describe the symptoms associated with schizophrenia in you, a friend, or relative.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!