Feature Archive

Intercepting Schizophrenia

A new approach to treating schizophrenia.

WebMD Feature

March 6, 2000 (Petaluma, Calif.) -- It seems to come out of nowhere, often striking young people in their teenage years. A seemingly healthy kid suddenly becomes withdrawn and depressed, then confused and even paranoid. As hallucinations and delusions take hold, victims become trapped in the demon-haunted world of schizophrenia.

One of the most severe forms of mental illness, schizophrenia afflicts an estimated 2.5 million Americans. One in 10 schizophrenics eventually commits suicide, according to Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., a psychiatrist at the University of Iowa.

New antipsychotic drugs effectively control some of the worst symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. Yet only one out of five schizophrenics gets total relief. So researchers are trying a bold and controversial new approach: treating people at risk for the disease even before they are diagnosed.

Before the Demons Emerge

"The earlier treatment starts, the better the prognosis," says psychiatrist Barbara Cornblatt, M.D., Director of High-risk studies at Hillside Hospital in New York. That's because the symptoms of full-blown schizophrenia -- hallucinations and delusions, for instance -- are themselves toxic to the brain, damaging its circuitry in ways that can't be reversed.