Schizophrenia is a chronic and profound psychological disorder that impairs one’s daily functioning in a variety of ways. Hallucinations, psychotic episodes, paranoia, and mood disorders are some of the more common symptoms of schizophrenia, although its precise manifestation often differs from one person to the next. A number of factors, both environmental and genetic, have been pegged as possibly contributing to the development of the disease. Schizophrenia usually develops in adolescence. This initial bout with the disease is referred to as the “first episode.” A timely and effective medical response to first-episode schizophrenia is important because it translates to better outcomes in the long term.
Traditionally, treatment of first-episode schizophrenia has involved low doses of first-generation “typical” antipsychotic medications. This approach has been more-or-less effective; however, patients who are new to these medications experience side effects at a disproportionately high rate. Some of the worse side effects of the typical antipsychotics include hormonal imbalances, sedation, movement disorders, weight gain, and, in women, irregular menstruation, infertility, and an increased risk for breast cancer. In many cases, these side effects are troublesome enough to discourage adherence to the treatment. Recently, doctors have investigated new approaches that may one day improve the prognosis for first-episode schizophrenic patients.
A study performed in Korea tested the effectiveness of Abilify (aripiprazole) as an initial treatment for first-episode schizophrenia. Twenty-one patients experiencing their first bout with the disease were given the opportunity to participate. Scores on two important mental health measures were taken at intervals of 1, 2, 4, and 8 weeks. Improvement was shown for all patients as early as 1 week into the study. Significant improvement continued throughout the 8-week trial. None of the participants experienced weight gain or any other side effects serious enough to discontinue the trial.
The effectiveness of early treatment for schizophrenic patients is a big predictor of future health and well-being. The introduction of medications that are not only strongly therapeutic but also relatively free of serious side effects will be an important asset in the fight against schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. The results of the Korea study are certainly promising, but larger samples and a longer observation period will be necessary to confirm the usefulness of Abilify in first-episode schizophrenia.
Lee, H., Ham, B., Kang, R., Paik, J., Hahn, S., Lee, M., et al. (2010). Trial of aripiprazole in the treatment of first-episode schizophrenia. Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 64, 38-43.
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