Schizophrenia

  • Treatment

    During an episode of schizophrenia, you may need to stay in the hospital for safety reasons, and to receive basic needs such as food, rest, and hygiene.

    MEDICATIONS

    Antipsychotic medications are the most effective treatment for schizophrenia. They change the balance of chemicals in the brain and can help control the symptoms of the illness.

    These medications are helpful, but they can have side effects. However, many of these side effects can be addressed, and should not prevent people from seeking treatment for this serious condition.

    Common side effects from antipsychotics may include:

    • Sleepiness (sedation) or dizziness
    • Weight gain and increased chance of diabetes and high cholesterol

    Less common side effects include:

    • Feelings of restlessness or "jitters"
    • Problems of movement and gait
    • Muscle contractions or spasms
    • Tremor

    Long-term risks of antipsychotic medications include a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia. In this condition, people develop movements that they cannot control, especially around the mouth. Anyone who believes they are having this problem should check with their doctor right away.

    For people who try and do not improve with several antipsychotics, the medication clozapine can be helpful. Clozapine is the most effective medication for reducing schizophrenia symptoms, but it also tends to cause more side effects than other antipsychotics.

    Because schizophrenia is a chronic illness, most people with this condition need to stay on antipsychotic medication for life.

    SUPPORT PROGRAMS AND THERAPIES

    Supportive and problem-focused forms of therapy may be helpful for many people. Behavioral techniques, such as social skills training, can be used during therapy or at home to improve function socially and at work.

    Family treatments that combine support and education about schizophrenia (psychoeducation) appear to help families cope and reduce the odds of symptoms returning. Programs that emphasize outreach and community support services can help people who lack family and social support.

    Important skills for a person with schizophrenia include:

    • Learning to take medications correctly and how to manage side effects
    • Learning to watch for early signs of a relapse and knowing how to react when they occur
    • Coping with symptoms that are present even while taking medications. A therapist can help persons with schizophrenia test the reality of thoughts and perceptions.
    • Learning life skills, such as job training, money management, use of public transportation, relationship building, and practical communication

    Family members and caregivers are often encouraged to help people with schizophrenia stick to their treatment.


    Support Groups


    Expectations (prognosis)

    The outlook for a person with schizophrenia is difficult to predict. Most people with schizophrenia find that their symptoms improve with medication, and some can get good control of their symptoms over time. However, others have functional disability and are at risk for repeated episodes, especially during the early stages of the illness.

    To live in the community, people with schizophrenia may need supported housing, work rehabilitation, and other community support programs. People with the most severe forms of this disorder may be too disabled to live alone, and may need group homes or other long-term, structured places to live. Some people with milder forms of schizophrenia are able to have satisfying relationships and work experiences.


    Complications
    • People with schizophrenia have a high risk of developing a substance abuse problem. Use of alcohol or other drugs increases the risk of relapse, and should be treated by a professional.
    • Physical illness is common among people with schizophrenia due to an inactive lifestyle and side effects from medication. Physical illness may not be detected because of poor access to medical care and difficulties talking to health care providers.
    • Not taking medication will often cause symptoms to return.

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if:

    • Voices are telling you to hurt yourself or others.
    • You feel the urge to hurt yourself or others.
    • You are feeling hopeless and overwhelmed.
    • You are seeing things that aren't really there.
    • You feel like you cannot leave the house.
    • You are unable to care for yourself.