What types of reactions should be expected after an individual begins undergoing treatment for schizophrenia?

Paul Ballas Health Guide
  • 1. What types of reactions should be expected after an individual begins undergoing treatment for schizophrenia? What are some common side effects?

    This reader’s question is a good follow-up from my last blog on the prodromal phase of schizophrenia. Typically people have active hallucinations and bizarre thoughts before they and their family seek treatment. This is usually a scary time for everyone involved. The person could have recently been violent towards others, they could have destroyed property, spent thousands of dollars irrationally, and not unusually, the police may be involved in the person’s life for the first time. This is commonly the climate that patients with schizophrenia are in when they start taking medications.
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    What the new antipsychotic medications are good at doing to help this situation is to help make hallucinations disappear or at the very least quiet them. Additionally, the medications have a tranquilizing effect, and usually help a person become calmer and help them sleep better. When the medications are working well, people begin thinking clearer and more rationally. At the same time the benefits of the medication begin, the side effects begin as well. Dry mouth, constipation, weight gain, dizziness, tremors or other movement disturbance all can begin with the first few pills and some can be very aggravating for the patients taking them. Some of these medications are very sedating and people often report feeling “drugged up” throughout the day making it difficult to function. Fortunately, many antipsychotic medications are once daily pills and most can be taken before sleep.

    Schizophrenia is a disease that usually presents itself for the first time in the late-teens or early-20’s, and a common side effect of medications that isn’t discussed often is sexual dysfunction. This can range from lack of desire, to lack of energy, to erectile dysfunction in men. It’s a problem for the patient and often a difficult side effect to overcome. Many patients don’t mention this particular side effect unless specifically asked by their physician.
    I think it’s important for patients and family members to know right from the start of therapy that there is no such thing as perfect medication. With very, very few exceptions, all medications have side effects or risks associated with their use. What a patient needs to consider is whether the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks and side effects. We are fortunate to live in an era when there are over a dozen different antipsychotic medications to choose from, and the good news is that most patients respond to different medications in different ways, so if one particular side effects is problematic, like sexual dysfunction, then there’s hope that a different medication may not cause that particular side effect. Doctors can work together with the patient to find out which medication is the best suited for his or her individual reactions to treatment.
Published On: February 13, 2007