Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD. Patient Handout

About Your Diagnosis

Schizophrenia is a condition that affects about 1% of the population. It usually begins in the late teenage years to early adulthood, and it seems to occur as frequently among males as among females. Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that leads to progressive loss of intellectual function and social isolation.

Living With Your Diagnosis
The main features of schizophrenia include ambivalence (i.e., difficulty making decisions), problems displaying and expressing emotions, marked impairment of ability to function in social situations, and abnormal thinking. The abnormal thinking can occur in many different forms. It may include hallucinations —that is, touching, seeing, hearing, feeling, and smelling things that are not there. The most common form of hallucinations in schizophrenia
involves hearing voices of individuals not actually present, so-called auditory hallucinations. The voices may actually tell the patient to do some act that the patient may feel uncomfortable about, such as killing oneself or others. In addition to hallucinations, schizophrenic patients may believe that someone is following them, controlling their thoughts, or making fun of them, and therefore, they may be paranoid. Less commonly, patients may believe that they have special powers, or that there is some physical condition affecting them, although there is no evidence of a medical problem. Cancer and AIDS are the most common imagined condition for these individuals. The cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but it probably occurs more commonly in cases where someone else in the family, particularly parents, has had schizophrenia diagnosed. There is, however, no blood test to confirm the diagnosis, and no genetic tests that can determine who will likely become schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is not curable; however, many of the symptoms of this disease can be successfully treated by the use of medications in conjunction with counseling.

The treatment of schizophrenia usually involves the use of drugs designed to stop psychotic features such as hallucinations and paranoia. These drugs are called antipsychotics, and they include such drugs as Thorazine, Mellaril, and Haldol. The medication must be taken every day; if the patient does so, the hallucinations and other abnormal thinking will improve significantly. The antipsychotic medications do have some side effects, including blurred vision, drowsiness, restlessness, occasional constipation, dry mouth, and sexual dysfunction. More serious, but less common complications include effects on the heart, liver, and blood pressure, and the production of seizures. Many of the side effects of the antipsychotics can be treated by lowering the dose of the drug, changing to a different drug, or adding a drug to treat side effects, such as Cogentin, Artane, or Benadryl. Occasional schizophrenic patients get their medications (Haldol, Prolixin) by injection once or twice a month. The psychosocial treatment of schizophrenia often involves having a counselor to help with different aspects of daily living, including getting the patient to their appointments and helping the patient with medication. Frequently, it is helpful for the patient to be involved in a support group with other schizophrenic patients. Support groups can be helpful as far as teaching the patient social skills.

The DOs
It is important that schizophrenic patients avoid the use of alcohol because it may intensify the effects of their medication. Drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and PCP may produce psychotic features and lead to hospitalization, so these drugs should also be avoided. It is important for schizophrenic patients to avoid stress because stressful situations, lack of sleep, poor diet, and use of caffeine may make them more likely to have psychotic features. Above all, schizophrenic patients should always take their medication as prescribed.
The DON’Ts
Schizophrenic patients should avoid the use of any medications, including over-the-counter medications, without first checking with their physician.

When to Call Your Doctor
You should contact your doctor if you have any side effects from the medication (especially fever or muscle stiffness), if you begin to hear voices, feel paranoid, or have other unusual thoughts, if you notice that your sleep has decreased, or if depression/ suicidal thoughts occur.