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What is the Treatment for Schizophrenia

What is the treatment for schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is an often misperceived illness that affects millions of people worldwide. Schizophrenia is part of a group of psychotic disorders that affect the thinking and behavior of people who have them. Out of all psychotic disorders, schizophrenia is one of the most disabling and chronic condition a person could have  it’s a lifelong illness and cannot be cured. However, it can be treated with a combination of medications, therapy, and other treatments. In this article we will have a look on what is the treatment for schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia Overview

What is it like to have Schizophrenia

People who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia may suffer from psychotic episodes (a loss of contact with reality) during which they experience extraordinary mood swings and may become anxious and withdrawn. These swings are called psychotic episodes. A person may sometimes go his entire life and suffer from only one episode. Other people may experience psychotic episodes throughout their lives.

Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia is not a split-personality disorder. The illness affects its victims quite profoundly, however. The disease influences the way a person thinks, acts, experiences emotions, and perceives reality. Schizophrenia can also greatly impact the way a person interacts with other people. People living with the disease may often become frightened and withdrawn as they experience psychotic episodes, and their relations with other people may very well be negatively impacted.

People with schizophrenia may experience relapses and remissions of psychotic episodes throughout their lives. Sometimes these cycles will appear to worsen; at other times, they may improve. There are many different types and symptoms of schizophrenia, which may manifest itself in a number of different ways. A person with schizophrenia may not be able to distinguish between what is real and what is imagined. They may often perform strange behaviors, have quirky habits, or say shocking things.


Who is Affected by Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a frightening disorder that affects people from all walks of life. Schizophrenia may develop in people from different cultures, races, and financial backgrounds. However, there are a few important considerations to take note of when studying how schizophrenia affects people differently.

Differences in Age

Schizophrenia usually develops in people during their adolescent years, which is a period of great physical change as the body undergoes numerous hormonal changes. The average age at which people tend to develop the disease is in their late teenage years or early twenties. While schizophrenia affects men and women in equal numbers, there are some discrepancies in the ages of men and women who develop schizophrenia. Men tend to develop the disease earlier in life, showing symptoms in their late teens and very early twenties. Women, on the other hand, show a trend toward developing the illness in their twenties and early thirties.

It is possible for children over the age of five to display symptoms of schizophrenia. However, it is very rare for a child that young to develop schizophrenia until adolescence. Some children who are later diagnosed with schizophrenia as adolescents or young adults may have displayed abnormal characteristics or behavior during their childhood years. Psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, though, only rarely appear before adolescence.

Drug Users

It has been estimated that approximately one percent of the population has or will develop schizophrenia. This number is roughly equal to about 3.5 million Americans over the age of 18. This makes schizophrenia a fairly common illness. Some people with schizophrenia are often mistaken as being high on drugs. However, scientists do not have any solid findings linking drug use to schizophrenia in different groups of people. People who suffer from schizophrenia, though, are more likely to abuse drugs. The most prevalent form of drug abuse among schizophrenics is that of nicotine addiction due to smoking. It is important for people suffering from the disease to remain under careful monitoring to avoid becoming addicted to any substances such as nicotine.

Living with Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is certainly a frightening disease to deal with if left untreated. People may have differing perceptions of reality and may have a very difficult time functioning in their everyday lives and relating to other people. There are several tests that can be performed to determine if a person is suffering from schizophrenia, and many different courses of treatment are available to make life a little easier.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The symptoms of schizophrenia vary widely and sometimes certain symptoms from one type of schizophrenic disorder may be confused with symptoms from a different schizophrenic disorder. The symptoms of schizophrenia may be divided into three categories: positive symptoms, disorganized symptoms, and negative symptoms.

Positive Symptoms of Schizophrenia

The word positive here does not mean good or beneficial. Instead, the word positive refers to symptoms that are very characteristic of schizophrenia. Two of the most common symptoms that are associated with schizophrenia include delusions and hallucinations. People with delusions may have a hard time differentiating between reality and fiction. They may believe someone is out to get them or that they are god or the devil. They may have a very distorted sense of self. People suffering from hallucinations often experience things that are not there, like a sensation on the skin or a taste in the mouth. They may also hear voices in their heads. These voices may give certain commands or may be insulting.

Disorganized Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Disorganized symptoms are also characteristic of schizophrenia. People suffering from these symptoms may experience quick shifts in thought or may say nonsensical things. They may move slowly, be unable to make decisions, write without meaning, or forget things easily. They may also be unable to make sense of everyday occurrences and may repeat patterns, movements, or words they see or hear.

Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Just as positive does not mean good in relation to schizophrenia, neither does negative mean bad. Instead, this word refers to the absence of certain characteristics or behaviors within people who may have a schizophrenic disorder. These people may appear flat and dull, or they may lack emotion. They may be withdrawn or act bizarrely. They can also experience a lack of energy and motivation, as well as practice poor hygiene habits and have moody personalities. In more severe cases, the person may exhibit catatonic behaviors, including remaining motionless for long periods of time or being unwilling to move.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to call your physician, who can point you in the direction of a mental health professional. These symptoms may show up at first quite suddenly and severely, so seek help immediately to avoid any complications or injury to self.

Types of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia can affect people of all ages and races. The term schizophrenia is a blanket title covering the four main types of schizophrenic disorders. These four types of schizophrenia can be distinguished by their symptoms and treated. However, some symptoms of schizophrenia may fall into more than one category.

Paranoid Schizophrenia

Paranoid schizophrenia is one of the most well-known types of schizophrenia. This disorder is characterized by delusions or false beliefs. The afflicted person may believe that they are being punished or persecuted by someone when they are not. They may literally be paranoid about someone being “after them.” People suffering from paranoid schizophrenia can often experience relatively normal speech, thinking processes, and emotions.

Disorganized Schizophrenia

Disorganized schizophrenia is less popularly known than paranoid schizophrenia. In this disorder, the afflicted person may appear confused or may be incoherent. His speech may be jumbled. He may act without emotion, and his speech may sound flat and dull. He may also tend to say silly, childlike, or even inappropriate things to different people for no apparent reason. This type of disorder may interfere with the afflicted person’s normal day-to-day life, disrupting activities other people may take for granted like showering and preparing dinner.

Catatonic Schizophrenia

This disease is characterized more by its profound and striking physical characteristics than its mental attributes. People suffering from catatonic schizophrenia may be immobile or may be unwilling to move. They may appear motionless or unresponsive. Their bodies may be rigid and stiff. At times, they may adopt a strange posture or expression, such as grimacing for no reason. Other people may latch on to certain words and phrases and repeat them. People suffering from this type of disorder are more likely to hurt themselves or to suffer from malnutrition and exhaustion.

Undifferentiated Schizophrenia

This is the fourth group of schizophrenic disorders. This is the group that some people may fall into if their symptoms are like schizophrenia but do not fall into any of the other three categories. These people are diagnosed through other testing methods and are matched to this category if they suffer from schizophrenic symptoms with no other diagnoses.

What causes Schizophrenia

As with many mental disorders, the exact causes behind schizophrenia have not been pinpointed by scientists. However, there are a number of factors that may influence a person’s development of schizophrenia.

Genetics

As with many diseases and illnesses, the genetic makeup of a person has a great influence on whether the person will be likely to develop schizophrenia. Evidence has shown that people with a family history of schizophrenia have an increased likelihood of developing the disease.

Brain Chemistry

Schizophrenia may also develop because of imbalances within the brain. Some people may be overly sensitive to a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Other people may produce too large a quantity of dopamine. Both of these factors can cause an imbalance of the chemical, thus affecting brain chemistry. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that aids in communication between nerve cells in the brain. The presence of dopamine influences how a person may react to certain stimuli like sights and sounds. An imbalance of the chemical may result in schizophrenic symptoms and difficulty distinguishing between fiction and reality.

Brain Abnormality

Schizophrenics have been shown on many occasions to have abnormal brain structure or functioning. This may play a part in the development of the disease, although scientists are unsure why. The presence of an abnormality in the brain does not necessarily mean people will develop schizophrenia, and not all schizophrenics have a brain abnormality.

Environmental Factors

Other factors can play a role in the development of schizophrenia. The psychotic episodes that characterize the disease may show up during hormonal stages such as puberty, in which other physical changes are taking place. Stressful situations, poor social interaction, and viral infections can also trigger the disease.

Although the exact origins of the disease are not known, people with a family history of schizophrenia should be aware they have a higher likelihood of developing the illness. People experiencing symptoms common to the disease should seek the attention of a healthcare provider to begin treatment as soon as possible.

Diagnosis of Schizophrenia

Properly diagnosing schizophrenia is the key to living as relatively normal a life as possible. Early diagnosis could mean the difference between experiencing one psychotic episode to experiencing a number of episodes that could greatly impact a person’s life. It is especially important, therefore, that anyone displaying early symptoms of schizophrenia seek out a qualified mental health specialist to begin testing for the disease.

Importance of Testing for Schizophrenia

Since schizophrenia may resemble many other mental illnesses, it is especially important to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing the disorder as schizophrenia. People with symptoms of schizophrenia may also exhibit prolonged periods of anxiety or depression, or they may experience vast mood swings. It is necessary before diagnosing schizophrenia, then, to rule out the possibility that the person may actually be suffering from bipolar disorder or another mental disorder instead. The two mental illnesses often feature similar symptoms and can be confused for one another.

In diagnosing schizophrenia, the doctor will perform numerous tests (like MRI or CT scans or blood tests) to rule out other physical conditions that may be resulting in schizophrenia-like symptoms. There are several underlying physical conditions that could be present when the diagnosis of schizophrenia is incorrectly made. In fact, schizophrenia is often diagnosed when these other illnesses are at the root of the person’s symptoms. Some of these illnesses may include effects resulting from a brain injury, tumor, epilepsy, and narcolepsy. Metabolic and systemic disorders may also result in schizophrenia-like symptoms. Other disorders with similar symptoms include genetic and chromosomal disorders.

Importance of Early Diagnosis of Schizophrenia

Evidence has shown the importance of diagnosing schizophrenia soon after the first psychotic episode has manifested itself. Diagnosing the disease early on and beginning treatment as soon as possible are keys to lessening the person’s chance of continuing to suffer from psychotic episodes and may enable the person to lead a more normal life. In some cases, diagnosing the disease early may mean a greater likelihood in even reversing the symptoms of schizophrenia. It is extremely important, therefore, to seek treatment as soon as you experience any symptoms related to the development of schizophrenia.

How is Schizophrenia Treated

Schizophrenia can be treated in a number of different ways. It is vital that a person seek treatment as soon as possible to lessen the severity of any future psychotic episodes and to possibly prevent another episode from happening. The sooner treatment is administered following the first psychotic episode, the greater chance a patient has of leading a relatively normal life.

The primary way to treat schizophrenia and its related disorders remains medication. Drugs are being developed and tested every day to treat the disease, and the newer medications are already a vast improvement over previously administered prescriptions. The main cause for patient relapse into schizophrenic episodes is failure to adhere to taking medications. Statistics show that about 80 percent of people will relapse within one year after they stop taking their medication, while 90 percent will relapse within two years after stopping their medication. Statistics show that only about 20 percent of patients will relapse if they stay on their medications and complete their course of treatment. Since each relapse can cause the disease to become progressively worse, completing a course of medication is especially important for afflicted patients.

There are several other methods that can be used alone but are for the most part used as secondary supplements to medication. These other treatments can prove helpful in improving patients’ rate of success in battling relapses and other symptoms of the disease. These newer treatments include electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, which is a seizure induced within the brain to stimulate the brain. Other therapies include personal therapy – which seeks to protect schizophrenic patients from overly stressful situations – and a healthy diet including a regimen of antioxidants and vital nutrients and supplements such as vitamin E.

Not surprisingly, animal therapy has also been tried with a measured rate of success. Animal-assisted therapy, such as a cat or dog, can prove to be helpful to a schizophrenic patient. The therapy can provide a center of calm and relaxation. Another therapy that continues to grow in popularity and controversy is stem cell therapy. There are certainly multiple angles a schizophrenic patient can pursue, so discussing each option with a specialist is the best route to take in deciding for or against a certain kind of therapy.

So, when asked What is the Treatment for Schizophrenia, we must say there are several options. Let's discuss them one by one in details.

Schizophrenia Treatment Options

Schizophrenia Medication

Medication is still the number one way many doctors choose to treat patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia’s exact origins and causes are not known, but the disorder is believed to be caused by an imbalance in the brain. Prescription medications work to improve this imbalance by assisting the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Drug Classes

There are two separate groups of drugs available to treat schizophrenia. These drugs are usually divided according to their age. The class of older drugs used to treat the disorder is being phased out by the newer drugs, which are generally less risky and can be more effective. Below are descriptions of two medications, one from the older class of drugs and one from the newer class of drugs — both of which have been prescribed to treat schizophrenia.

Loxapine

Loxapine is a member of the older class of prescription medications for schizophrenia treatment. The drug is an antipsychotic agent whose exact mechanism, as with many drugs, is not known. The drug provides a strong inhibition of spontaneous motor activity, thus sedating the schizophrenic patients who take it. The sedative effect for one 25 mg pill occurs within 15 to 30 minutes after it is taken, peaks within one to three hours, and lasts for up to 12 hours in the body. People who are comatose, in a severe drug-induced state, or have circulatory collapse or other serious complications should not take Loxapine. The drug has been shown to produce a complication called tardive dyskinesia, which is characterized by involuntary dyskinetic movements, particularly in older women. An effect called neuroleptic malignant syndrome, or NMS, can also result. NMS is a potentially fatal effect that is characterized by hyperpyrexia, muscle rigidity, and differing mental states.

Abilify

Abilify is part of a newer class of drugs, called atypical drugs to distinguish them from older drugs like Loxapine. These drugs are generally tolerated very well although they may have common side effects such as upset stomach, insomnia, or headache. These atypical drugs like Abilify help to alleviate both positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Positive symptoms are symptoms such as schizophrenia-like hallucinations, while negative symptoms are the qualities schizophrenic patients seem to lack, such as emotional warmth or depth. People taking a drug like Abilify, which is usually taken as a single daily dose, should not take any herbal supplements and should consult with their doctor especially if they take antidepressants. Unlike a sedative drug like Loxapine, which has almost immediate results, patients taking Abilify will begin to experience full benefits in about four to six weeks after beginning treatment.

Therapy for Schizophrenia

Although medication is still the preferred choice of treatment for people with schizophrenic disorders, many patients may also seek out therapy to help them work through any additional problems or frustrations they may experience. Therapy can also be used in conjunction with medication to achieve better results and a higher success rate.

Long-term therapy has been shown to reduce the rate of relapse into schizophrenic episodes, according to some studies. The therapy also helps dramatically with patients’ functioning in their everyday lives. Personal therapy is a type of psychosocial intervention therapy, in which patients are encouraged to recognize and respond to different stimuli. This response to varying stimuli helps to improve brain function and may also reduce the risk of relapse into psychotic episodes. The central theme of personal therapy is that of reducing undue stress on the schizophrenic patient. This method has also been shown to reduce the rate of relapse. Over the long term, this type of therapy has proven successful in producing marked benefits in schizophrenic patients.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has also been shown to produce some tremendous results in treating patients with schizophrenia. The therapy has been shown to improve basic social functioning and social interaction with other people. With this type of therapy, schizophrenic patients can learn how to meet their basic needs for survival, thus making them less dependant on family and friends to help them in their day-to-day tasks. Cognitive behavioral therapy has also been shown to improve positive (or characterizing) symptoms of schizophrenia. These symptoms include delusions and hallucinations.

Whether these therapies help out with every aspect of a schizophrenic patient’s life is unclear. Some therapies may not place enough emphasis on competitive employment or on employment period. Other patients may not benefit from counseling and these forms of specialized therapy in terms of their positive and negative symptoms. Their negative symptoms may include withdrawal and feeling emotionless. Since therapy is usually also combined with medication, it is a good idea to investigate to see whether this course of treatment could be beneficial to you.

Medication is key in fighting the imbalance in the brain. However, therapy can also help to meet patients’ basic needs and to help patients learn how to provide for themselves.

Electroconvulsive Therapy for Schizophrenia

For years, electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, has received a bad rap from the public. Those not aware of how the modern process works have imagined a world of rusty electric chairs and painful electric shock. However, the modern process of ECT is a painless treatment that can provide life-saving results to severely depressed patients and can be extremely helpful in treating schizophrenia.

However, after the advent of antipsychotics and their development over the years, use of ECT in treating schizophrenia has been limited.

The Procedure

ECT is usually given about three times a week during the initial treatment period. While some patients may receive treatment for as little as three to four sessions, other patients may need anywhere from 12 to 15 sessions to experience results. After the initial treatment period, patients will receive one to two follow-up treatments to help avoid the risk of relapse.

The actual procedure takes a very short amount of time. The patient is administered a barbiturate, which puts the patient to sleep. Doctors then administer the drug succinylcholine, which works to paralyze the patient’s muscles. The muscles are paralyzed in order to prevent injury to the patient when the electric current is applied. Then, electrodes are placed either above the non-dominant temple or above both temples, and in the middle of the forehead. The doctors will apply a small electric current that usually lasts less than one second. Monitors record brain activity as the electric current stimulates the brain into having a seizure. These seizures typically last anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute, and the patient will wake up about 10 to 15 minutes later.

Positives and Negatives

Well over half of the patients who have received ECT say they would have the treatment again. The brain stimulation works to provide sometimes dramatic results to patients with severe mental illness. For patients who are a suicide threat and cannot be trusted to wait for a course of antidepressants to work, ECT is a treatment that can provide nearly immediate results, and suicide rates are lower following ECT treatments. Many patients who were once previously depressed or suffering from a disorder like schizophrenia reported feeling much improved after treatment.

After the procedure, patients may feel confused, experience a headache or stiffness, or have a drop in blood pressure. One of the main concerns about ECT is its propensity for promoting short term memory loss. Patients may not be able to remember certain events for months after treatment, which can be very frustrating. However, despite previous conceptions about ECT, this modern version of the therapy shows promising evidence of being a successful treatment for schizophrenic patients. The procedure is short, painless, and in the large majority of people helps to relieve their severe symptoms.

Surgery for Schizophrenia

Surgery remains an option for patients afflicted with schizophrenia. However, as medical technology and prescription medications continue to increase in efficacy and improve in treatment, surgery has nearly become obsolete for treating schizophrenic patients. While surgery can be and is still performed, many doctors prefer to pursue other routes of treatment beforehand.

A Last Option

Surgery for schizophrenic patients today is considered a last resort. The development of modern medicines and other procedures such as improvements in electroconvulsive therapy have given doctors the luxury of rarely choosing to perform surgery on schizophrenic patients. In some cases, though, it may be considered an option. However, these are only the most severe cases of schizophrenia in which a person has uncontrollable symptoms and other avenues of treatment have proven to be ineffective.

The procedure performed is called a lobotomy. This procedure involves a surgeon snipping the nerves in the frontal lobe of the brain. The surgery may reduce anxiety, other severe symptoms of schizophrenia, and may help severely schizophrenic patients avoid a relapse of psychotic episodes. The procedure was used more often in the past for people suffering from severe schizophrenia, although today it is used very rarely because of other avenues of treatment available. Part of the reason many doctors opt not to pursue the surgical option is because a lobotomy, along with its benefits, holds many serious side effects — all of which are irreversible once the surgery has been performed. Complications resulting from a lobotomy can include a lack of bladder and bowel control and dramatic personality and behavior changes.

Whereas in previous years, there were fewer options available to doctors, there are far more treatments available now directly targeted to people suffering from severe schizophrenia. Although the procedure itself has improved thanks to modern surgical practices and continuing improvements in the medical field, doctors have found that other avenues of treatment usually produce far better results for their severely schizophrenic patients. However, if other methods of treatment do not produce better results or help to control a patient’s severe psychotic episodes, a lobotomy may be the only option left to take and can produce some benefits for patients.

Misconceptions about Schizophrenia and Schizophrenic People

As with many other mental illnesses, misconceptions abound about people suffering from schizophrenia. For years in movies, television, and books, schizophrenic people have been portrayed as crazy, dangerous, or violent. Many people also do not have a clear understanding that schizophrenia is not a split personality disorder. It is helpful to understand that these misconceptions are not true in order to appreciate the people who are affected by them.

Insanity and Violence

One of the most popular misconceptions about schizophrenic patients is that they are crazy and violent. They are a harm to society and to other people not suffering from this disease. This is simply not true. In fact, the truth of the matter is that most schizophrenic patients are actually withdrawn and would prefer to be left alone. They often feel isolated from the society around them. Schizophrenic patients also do not suffer from a split personality disorder per se. Instead, schizophrenia can be characterized by a number of different disorders and symptoms, all of which can be treated and controlled to some extent with modern medicine.

The biggest concern about schizophrenic patients is actually that they can be a danger to themselves. It has been estimated that one in 10 schizophrenic patients commits suicide, and that four in 10 attempt suicide. In fact, suicide has been cited as the number one cause of premature death among people afflicted with schizophrenia. Another time schizophrenic patients may become dangerous or violent is if they become addicted to drug use. Like other people who do not have schizophrenia and have become addicted to drugs, schizophrenic patients may act out in violent ways if they have become dependant on a substance.

A Brighter Outlook

The truth is that most patients who have schizophrenia today will go on to lead healthy and productive lives. The improvements made to medications and other avenues of treatment mean patients can experience fewer negative side effects and can enjoy living with their families or in a community setting versus a hospital or mental institute. The outlook for schizophrenic patients is certainly brighter than it has ever been.

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