Medical Management of Schizophrenia
There isn’t a cure for schizophrenia yet. But there are treatments that can make it much easier to live with the disease. Medications are a mainstay of schizophrenia treatment, helping lessen the severity and frequency of symptoms.
The primary medications used to treat schizophrenia are antipsychotics. These medicines often make a huge difference in a person’s ability to function in daily life. They may not completely eliminate all symptoms, however.
Psychosocial treatments can help manage any symptoms that remain. They can also improve the patient’s knowledge about the illness, increase cognitive performance, and help the person take his or her medication consistently. But when still more help is needed, other types of medications may be added to the mix, including antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs.
Below is a quick look at the medications commonly used for treating schizophrenia. Just keep in mind that everyone’s response to these drugs is a little different. It’s important to work with your doctor to find the best treatment for you.
Antipsychotic medications can be divided into two groups: older, first-generation drugs (also called conventional or typical) and newer, second-generation drugs (also called atypical). These are some of the more widely prescribed ones:
- Asenapine (Saphrys)
- Brexapiprazole (Rexult)
- Ziprasidone (Geodon)
- Haloperidol (Haldol)
- Perphenazine (Trilafon)
Antipsychotics are usually taken by mouth every day. But some can be taken via long-acting injections given once or twice a month instead. This eliminates the need for daily medicine. Long-acting injections are available for aripiprazole (Abilify Maintena), olanzapine (Zyprexa Relprevv), palperidone (Invega Sustenna), risperidone (Risperdal Consta), fluphenazine, (Prolixin depot) and haloperidol (Haldol depot).
Benefits of Antipsychotics
Once an antipsychotic is started, hallucinations—experiences of hearing or seeing things that aren’t really there—often go away within days. Delusions—beliefs that are clearly false and seem strange to others—may lessen within a few weeks. Older and newer antipsychotics work about equally well against these symptoms.
However, for treating problems with showing emotion and relating to others, newer antipsychotics may have an edge. For relieving hard-to-treat symptoms that don’t respond to other medications, clozapine may be beneficial. When one antipsychotic isn’t enough, doctors sometimes add another, but good evidence for the effectiveness of this approach is still missing and side effects should be monitored.
Side Effects of Antipsychotics
Although antipsychotics can be extremely helpful, they also can cause side effects. Common ones include drowsiness, dizziness, blurry vision, rapid heartbeat, and skin rashes. Women may have menstrual problems. Most of these side effects occur early or when the dose is increased, but often they go away quickly or can be managed well.
Other possible side effects include:
Enlarged breasts and sexual problems in both men and women may occur with most antipsychotics other than aripiprazole, clozapine and quetiapine.
Loss of infection-fighting white blood cells is a potentially serious side effect of clozapine. People taking this drug must get blood tests to check their white blood cell counts every week for the first six months, every two weeks for the second six months, and monthly thereafter if the results have remained normal.
Uncontrollable muscle movements (known as tardive dyskinesia) are more likely with older antipsychotics. In some cases, the problem is permanent.
Weight gain and changes in blood fat and blood sugar can increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease. These effects may occur more often with many of the newer antipsychotics, but not with all. Some older antipsychotics can also cause this problem. People taking antipsychotics should have their weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol checked regularly.
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