What to Expect from Antipsychotic Medication for Schizophrenia
If you struggle with symptoms of schizophrenia, antipsychotic medications can help. Antipsychotics—such as haloperidol (Haldol), risperidone (Risperdal), and olanzapine (Zyprexa), among many others—are a primary treatment for schizophrenia. They can be very effective in reducing symptoms and improving your ability to manage the condition. But what should you expect when you start taking medication? Here are a few tips to help you navigate your treatment.
Antipsychotic medications take up to six weeks to work.
It’s important to realize that medication for schizophrenia may not control symptoms right away. But that doesn’t mean the medication isn’t right for you. Typically, feelings of agitation go away within a few days to a week of starting a medication. Hallucinations and especially delusions usually improve within a few weeks. But be patient. On average, it takes six weeks to realize significant benefits of an antipsychotic medication. If you don’t notice a major reduction in symptoms by six weeks, talk with your doctor. Also, there is a higher rate of substance abuse among people who have schizophrenia. Being treated for drug dependence (including nicotine) at the same time will greatly improve the odds of effective antipsychotic therapy.
Your body needs to adjust.
As with most medications, it can take time for your body to get used to antipsychotics. Some people experience certain side effects—including sleepiness, dizziness, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, muscle stiffness, restlessness, dry mouth, and skin rashes—when they start taking them. Although most of these side effects go away after a few days, other side effects may not disappear:
Antipsychotics can lead to major weight gain, increasing the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart disease. To help combat these risks, try to make healthy lifestyle changes. For example, as you adjust to taking medication and are better able to plan your day, set a simple goal to walk for 30 minutes a day. And make sure your weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels are regularly monitored by your doctor.
Some antipsychotics can also cause side effects related to physical movements, such as tremors and muscle spasms. Talk with your doctor if you experience these side effects, which may be relieved by adjusting your medication. Never stop taking your medication on your own.
Trial and error may be part of your treatment.
Medication that works for one person with schizophrenia may not work for another. It will likely take several tries before you and your doctor find a treatment plan that’s right for you. To help, work closely with your doctor. Take your medication as prescribed, meet with your doctor for follow-up appointments, and be candid about your symptoms and feelings. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about other medications you’re taking. With your input, your doctor can better adjust your dosage or type of medication to find the solution that works best for you.
Improve your success: Set reminders.
Studies show that about 40 to 50 percent of people with schizophrenia don’t take their medication as prescribed. If you’re just getting into the habit of taking daily medication, avoid forgetting a dose by setting a few reminders.
Try these tips:
Set a daily alarm on your clock or cell phone to alert you when it’s time to take your medication.
Ask a loved one to give you a call each day to remind you.
Fill a pill box with compartments for each day of the week.
Write a reminder note and stick it to the bathroom mirror.
If you still find it difficult to follow a daily medication schedule, ask your doctor about long-acting medication options. Also called depot injections, these are specially prepared antipsychotic drugs that are given by injection once or twice a month. They work by slowly releasing medication into the body over time.
It’s essential to follow your plan.
Make a deal with yourself and your doctor. No matter what, stay on your medication plan—even if you’re feeling good. Studies show that not taking your medication exactly as prescribed can put you at great risk for relapse and hospitalization. If you have concerns about a medication, always talk with your doctor.
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- Harvard Mental Health Letter. http://harvardpartnersinternational.staywellsolutionsonline.com/HealthNewsLetters/69,M0110b
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. http://nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Hearts_and_Minds/Exercise/Mental_Illness_and_Exercise.htm
- National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/complete-index.shtml#pub7
- National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/how-is-schizophrenia-treated.shtml