Causes There is an inherited element: parents, children or siblings of schizophrenic su?erers have a one in ten chance of developing the disorder; a twin has a 50 per cent chance if the other twin has schizophrenia. Some BRAIN disorders such as temporal lobe EPILEPSY, tumours and ENCEPHALITIS seem to be linked with schizophrenia. Certain drugs – for example, AMPHETAMINES – can precipitate schizophrenia and DOPAMINE-blocking drugs often relieve schizophrenic symptoms. Stress may worsen schizophrenia and recreational drugs may trigger an attack.
Symptoms These usually develop gradually until the individual’s behaviour becomes so distrubing or debilitating that work, relationships and basic activities such as eating and sleeping are interrupted. The patient may have disturbed perception with auditory HALLUCINATIONS, illogical thought-processes and DELUSIONS; low-key emotions (‘?at a?ect’); a sense of being invaded or controlled by outside forces; a lack of INSIGHT and inability to acknowledge reality; lethargy and/or agitation; a disrespect for personal appearance and hygiene; and a tendency to act strangely. Violence is rare although some su?erers commit violent acts which they believe their ‘inner voices’ have commanded.
Relatives and friends may try to cope with the a?ected person at home, but as severe episodes may last several months and require regular administration of powerful drugs – patients are not always good at taking their medication
– hospital admission may be necessary.
Treatment So far there is no cure for schizophrenia. Since the 1950s, however, a group of drugs called antipsychotics – also described as NEUROLEPTICS or major tranquillisers – have relieved ?orid symptoms such as thought disorder, hallucinations and delusions as well as preventing relapses, thus allowing many people to leave psychiatric hospitals and live more independently outside. Only some of these drugs have a tranquillising e?ect, but their sedative properties can calm patients with an acute attack. CHLORPROMAZINE is one such drug and is commonly used when treatment starts or to deal with an emergency. Halperidol, tri?uoperazine and pimozide are other drugs in the group; these have less sedative e?ects so are useful in treating those whose prominent symptoms are apathy and lethargy.
The antipsychotics’ mode of action is by blocking the activity of DOPAMINE, the chemical messenger in the brain that is faulty in schizophrenia. The drugs quicken the onset and prolong the remission of the disorder, and it is very important that patients take them inde?nitely. This is easier to ensure when a patient is in hospital or in a stable domestic environment.
CLOZAPINE – a newer, atypical antipsychotic drug – is used for treating schizophrenic patients unresponsive to, or intolerant of, conventional antipsychotics. It may cause AGRANULOCYTOSIS and use is con?ned to patients registered with the Clorazil (the drug’s registered name) Patient Monitoring Service. Amisulpride, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, sertindole and zotepine are other antipsychotic drugs described as ‘atypical’ by the British National Formulary; they may be better tolerated than other antipsychotics, and their varying properties mean that they can be targeted at patients with a particular grouping of symptoms. They should, however, be used with caution.
The welcome long-term shift of mentally ill patients from large hospitals to community care (often in small units) has, because of a lack of resources, led to some schizophrenic patients not being properly supervised with the result that they fail to take their medication regularly. This leads to a recurrence of symptoms and there have been occasional episodes of such patients in community care becoming a danger to themselves and to the public.
The antipsychotic drugs are powerful agents and have a range of potentially troubling side-e?ects. These include blurred vision, constipation, dizziness, dry mouth, limb restlessness, shaking, sti?ness, weight gain, and in the long term, TARDIVE DYSKINESIA (abnormal movements and walking) which a?ects about 20 per cent of those under treatment. Some drugs can be given by long-term depot injection: these include compounds of ?upenthixol, zuclopenthixol and haloperidol.
Prognosis About 25 per cent of su?erers recover fully from their ?rst attack. Another 25 per cent are disabled by chronic schizophrenia, never recover and are unable to live independently. The remainder are between these extremes. There is a high risk of suicide.... Medical Dictionary