A Guide to Schizophrenia and Clinical Trials
Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder that significantly affects how a person thinks, feels, behaves, and relates to others. In many cases, the person may not know which sights, sounds, and experiences they sense are real – and which they are imagining.
The first episode typically occurs in the late teens to early twenties, although people can develop schizophrenia later in life. The disorder appears in both men and women but tends to manifest slightly more frequently in men.
For both sexes, the disorder is considered to be life-long and incurable. Fortunately, modern healthcare allows most patients with schizophrenia to live with fairly minimal symptoms as long as they adhere to prescribed medications and treatments.
Schizophrenia typically involves delusions, hallucinations, unusual physical behavior, and disorganized thinking and speech. People with this disorder commonly experience paranoid thoughts or hear non-existent voices. These psychotic episodes can be frightening, isolating, and extremely confusing.
The disorder tends to appear gradually – so much so that people experiencing symptoms (and their families) may not be aware of the illness for months or even years. For some, however, the symptoms of schizophrenia come on rapidly and are easier to recognize.
Schizophrenia can be extremely disruptive to a person’s daily life, making it challenging to attend school or work, socialize, and properly care for oneself. Researchers are unsure what causes schizophrenia, but it’s likely that genetic makeup and brain chemistry play strong roles.
With consistent treatment, people with schizophrenia can manage the disease and lead fulfilling lives. Of course, symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person.
How Common Is Schizophrenia?
According to the World Health Organization, schizophrenia affects approximately 24 million people – roughly 1 in 300 people worldwide. Thus, it is not as common as many other mental disorders.
However, the vast majority of people with schizophrenia around the world are not receiving adequate mental health care. Approximately 50% of people in mental hospitals have a schizophrenia diagnosis, but only a third of people with psychosis receive specialist mental health care.
Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia can elicit a range of symptoms that affect a person’s behavior and perception of reality. The most common symptoms associated with schizophrenia include:
These are firmly held false beliefs that are not rooted in fact – although the person experiencing the delusions will not realize this. They will strongly feel that their beliefs are true and will likely not accept other people’s explanations or presented facts.
Common delusions among people with schizophrenia include the beliefs that:
- Someone is trying to harm them (paranoia)
- Other people are following or stalking them
- Their bodies or thoughts are being controlled by outside forces
- Ordinary events (like a TV story or newspaper ad) have special meaning
- They are “important” or have special powers
- Other people can read their thoughts
Hallucinations are disturbances in perception and can manifest as seemingly real tastes, touches, smells, sights, and/or sounds. The most common hallucinations among people with schizophrenia are auditory – they may hear noises or voices, often talking to them or about them.
These voices may be harmless or even benevolent to the person experiencing them. However, it is more common for the voices to frighten, humiliate, or attempt to control people with schizophrenia.
Disorganized Thinking or Behavior
Schizophrenia can dramatically impact a person’s ability to connect their own thoughts and/or communicate with others clearly and logically. Their train of thought may be jumbled or blocked, which in turn affects their speed in conversation. For example, a person with schizophrenia may jump from subject to subject or make up nonsensical words.
This disorder can also affect a person’s ability to complete everyday tasks, including performing at work and school, buying and preparing food, bathing, and traveling.
Match With Schizophrenia Clinical Trials
Have you been diagnosed with schizophrenia? If so, you may qualify for a local clinical trial. At Tandem Clinical Research, we’ll help you match with:
- Studies on the latest treatments
- Scientific clinical research
Diagnosis of Schizophrenia
There’s no single test for schizophrenia. The condition is usually diagnosed after assessment by a specialist in mental health, as well as an examination by a doctor. These medical providers will assess the patient’s physical health, then evaluate their medical, psychiatric, and family history.
To receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the patient must have experienced at least two of the following symptoms consistently during a one-month period, with some level of disturbance occurring for at least six months:
- Disorganized speech
- Catatonic behavior
- Reduced ability to function
In some cases, the doctor may order an MRI scan to obtain a view of the brain’s structure. This helps the doctor potentially rule out schizophrenia by detecting abnormalities that may be causing schizophrenia-like symptoms.
Medical professionals may also order a routine blood test to help rule out other conditions, such as alcohol and drug abuse. This will also detect interactions between certain medications that may cause similar symptoms to schizophrenia.
Available Treatments for Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even when symptoms have subsided or seem to be under control. This treatment is usually led by a psychiatrist experienced in treating schizophrenia and other mental disorders. They may also refer to a psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, or case manager to coordinate care.
Medications are usually the cornerstone of schizophrenia treatment. Most often, medical providers prescribe antipsychotic medications to help control symptoms related to dopamine transmission within the brain.
By taking antipsychotic medications, many patients can effectively manage the signs and symptoms of their schizophrenia, even at the lowest possible dose. Still, the psychiatrist may strategically try combinations of different drugs at different doses over time to achieve desired results.
Other medications also may help, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. Considering that up to 54% of people with schizophrenia experience depressive symptoms, most will be prescribed an antidepressant at some point.
However, almost all of these medications have their own side effects, which can deter patients from taking them as prescribed.
Let’s take a look at the two kinds of antipsychotics and their potential side effects and efficacy.
In addition to the continual use of prescribed medications, psychological and social interventions may be beneficial for schizophrenic patients. This can include:
- Individual therapy. Psychotherapy may help normalize disrupted or illogical thought patterns. Working with a personal therapist can also help the patient learn to cope with stress and identify early warning signs of relapse.
- Social skills training. Patients can work with professionals to help improves their communication and social interactions, as well as their ability to participate in daily activities that involve others.
- Vocational rehabilitation and supported employment. In a 2020 study, researchers found that only about 24% of their surveyed individuals with schizophrenia were employed – and employment rates tend to drop right around the time of their first diagnosis. Thus, patients may need help finding and maintaining a job while managing their illness.
People who have schizophrenia may have to spend time in the hospital due to severe symptoms or for other reasons. Patients are encouraged to go to the hospital if they are:
- Experiencing a psychotic episode
- Thinking or talking about suicide
- Thinking or talking about harming others
- Experiencing severe medicine side effects
A recent meta-analysis reported that more than half of all first-episode psychosis (FEP) patients required hospitalization over an average follow-up of 7 years afterward. Therefore, it is not unusual for people with schizophrenia to be admitted to hospitals at least once in their lifetime, if not multiple times.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is most commonly used to treat depression, but some doctors also recommend it to help with schizophrenia treatment. This kind of therapy can be fast-acting and effective, especially in older patients. Additionally, ECT may reduce the chances of relapse if continued.
Before an ECT treatment, the patient will receive a general anesthetic and a muscle relaxant to keep them still and unaware during the procedure. A medical team will monitor their breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure throughout.
Electrodes are placed at precise locations on the individual’s head. A small electric current will then pass from electrodes into the brain for about a minute and intentionally trigger a seizure. This may sound harmful, but the anesthesia ensures there is no pain. Most patients are not even aware of electrical impulses.
Usually, ECT treatments are administered roughly three times weekly until schizophrenia symptoms subside. Once the symptoms are under control, ECT might be needed as often as once a week or every few months to help prevent them from returning.
Schizophrenia Clinical Trials
Tandem Clinical Research will help you match with trusted, nearby clinical trials for Schizophrenia treatment. If you live near New Orleans or Orlando, contact us to find trials.
We might not currently have a cure for schizophrenia, but scientists and doctors are continuously researching potential new treatments. The more we learn about the condition, the more adept we can become at preventing and treating it.
If you’ve been diagnosed with schizophrenia, we encourage you to learn more about contributing to ongoing research.
How to Support Others With Schizophrenia
If your friend or family member has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you might be wondering how you can help them. Here are some of the most valuable steps you can take to support them, physically and emotionally.
Learn About the Disorder
There are many misconceptions about schizophrenia out there, and portrayals in movies and books are often far from accurate. Research the disorder thoroughly, as well as its symptoms, treatments, and lifestyle considerations. This will help you understand the challenges your loved one is facing and how best to support them on their journey.
Schizophrenia can be extremely isolating. Supporting a loved one with this mental disorder often means going out of your way to interact with them socially and lend a listening ear. Don’t rush to offer solutions or judgment – instead, focus on offering a steady, comforting presence when they need it.
Offer Practical Help
Whether this means prepping meals or picking up medications, many people with schizophrenia need help with everyday errands. Ask them how you can help with their daily schedule and make life a little easier for them logistically.
Match With Schizophrenia Clinical Trials
If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia, you could be a candidate for revolutionary clinical studies. These trials give researchers an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the condition, which can then influence future treatment options.
Scientists and doctors are currently studying many aspects of schizophrenia. This includes the assessment of:
- new treatment possibilities
- how genetics and environmental factors increase the risk of schizophrenia
- how schizophrenia develops and progresses
At Tandem Clinical Research, we match patients with reputable trials conducted at our research centers. If you’re interested, reach out to learn about the schizophrenia clinical trials in your area.