Early Treatment of Schizophrenia Makes Difference

Study found intervention right after first episode can improve outcome

FRIDAY, Oct. 21, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Early treatment of schizophrenia can improve patients' long-term outcomes, says a study led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For years, experts have debated whether early intervention following a schizophrenia patient's first psychotic episode could affect outcome. The prevailing view has been that "it just doesn't matter when you treat a person because their clinical outcome is predetermined," study author Dr. Diana O. Perkins said in a prepared statement.

This opinion hinges on the belief that schizophrenia is the result of altered brain development that begins before a person is born, meaning that early treatment won't have an impact on outcome.

This study disputes that belief. Perkins and her team analyzed 43 previous studies and concluded that the shorter the duration of untreated psychosis in schizophrenia patients, the greater their response to antipsychotic treatment.

Perkins and her colleagues also found that "the longer someone was untreated, the less well they were doing in terms of clinical symptoms and functional outcomes, immediately after treatment and as long as 15 years out."

The study was published in the October issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

These findings show that schizophrenia doesn't have to be a disabling disorder.

"At least in some people, symptomatic and functional disability may be preventable," Perkins said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on schizophrenia.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, October 2005
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