Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a chronic, disabling illness
that may be caused by abnormal amounts of certain chemicals in the brain. These
chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters control our thought
processes and emotions.
How do people who have
schizophrenia think and act?
People who have schizophrenia may seem
different from other people. They may seem to show fewer emotions than other
people. They may keep to themselves, withdrawing from social contact. At times
they may seem slowed down, as if they don't have enough energy.
People who have schizophrenia may have unusual
beliefs, called delusions. They may believe that others are spying on them or
that they are famous people from history. Sometimes, they may hear voices
telling them what to do or saying things about them. Voices that others can't
hear and visions that others can't see are called hallucinations. A
schizophrenic person's thoughts may also race through his or her mind, becoming
confused and disorganized. These symptoms come and go, often occurring after
How is schizophrenia treated?
In the past, schizophrenia has been treated with
medicines that block the action of a brain chemical called dopamine. These
medicines help control the abnormal thinking of people who have schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, the medicines also decrease a person's ability to show
emotion, and cause slowing and stiffness in the muscles. The medicines can
cause other unpleasant side effects, like unusual movements of the tongue and
face. This condition is called tardive dyskinesia. A dangerous syndrome,
neuroleptic malignant syndrome (also called NMS) can develop in people who use
these medicines. A person with NMS may have rigid muscles or a very high
body temperature. He or she may even go into a coma.
Newer medicines are now also available to treat
people who have schizophrenia.
What is different about newer
medicines for treating schizophrenia?
Newer medicines for treating schizophrenia block
the brain chemical called serotonin in addition to blocking dopamine. The
medicines help control the abnormal thinking associated with schizophrenia. They
also improve the social withdrawal and lack of emotion that make people who have
schizophrenia seem different even when they are not having hallucinations or
Do the newer drugs have any side
Like most medicines, the newer medicines for
treating schizophrenia can cause side effects. Not everyone gets these side
effects. Any side effects you have will depend on which medicine your doctor has
chosen for you.
While you're taking a medicine to treat
schizophrenia, you may need to see your doctor on a regular basis for certain
tests. For example, a medicine called clozapine (brand name: Clozaril) can lower
the number of white blood cells in your body. This makes it easier for you to
get an infection. People taking clozapine must have their blood checked every
week. Your doctor will tell you if you need to see him or her for
What else should I know about these
People who take these medicines need to drink
plenty of liquids. You should avoid spending too much time in the
sun because you will tend to get overheated. Since you will also
be more sensitive to the cold, you should dress warmly in cold weather.
People who take these medicines should try to take them at the same time
every day. You should not stop taking the medicine without talking to your
doctor first. If you notice that your thinking problems are getting worse, or if
you have any unusual symptoms or fevers, you should report these problems
to your doctor.
What is in the future for people who
The less time people who have schizophrenia have
hallucinations or delusions, the better they do in the long run. Taking the
right medicine regularly will prevent outbreaks of abnormal thinking and limit
the consequences of having schizophrenia.
Researchers are learning more and more about how
the brain works. With this information, better medicines with fewer side effects
can be developed so that people who have schizophrenia can live without being
limited by their illness.