How Schizophrenia Works


Schizophrenia Treatment

Medications called antipsychotics are available for people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately these are not always entirely effective, and most schizophrenics live with at least some symptoms. As many as 14 percent of those schizophrenics who take antipsychotics show no significant improvement [source: Javitt].

Antipsychotic drugs affect the amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter, in your brain by blocking dopamine receptors. When their effectiveness in fighting schizophrenia was first discovered in the 1950s, scientists came to the conclusion that an improper balance of dopamine in the brain led to schizophrenia. However, with the 1980s came the development of new atypical antipsychotics that inhibited dopamine receptors less and that of other neurotransmitters more. When these proved effective in fighting more symptoms and causing fewer side effects, it prompted a reexamination of other neurotransmitters' role in schizophrenia. Although older versions of antipsychotics are only effective in fighting positive symptoms of the disorder, atypical antipsychotics treat negative symptoms as well. Finding the appropriate medicine and dosage for each patient can be a difficult process, as side effects vary depending on the individual.

Some of the possible side effects with antipsychotic medications are weight gain, restlessness, stiff muscles, drowsiness and muscle spasms. Although lowering the dosage or finding a different antipsychotic may help get rid of these symptoms, many people stop taking the medication because of the side effects.

In addition to medications, other treatments for schizophrenia can help, such as community support activities and psychotherapy. Community support activities can include training schizophrenic people in particular skills to help them become contributing members of society. Psychotherapy can add structure and confidence to the patient's life, increasing their ability to perform daily activities and chores on their own. Group therapy and family therapy have been shown to help as well [source: Grohol].

Despite falling out of favor in the mid-20th century, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) (also known as shock therapy) is still practiced for such disorders as schizophrenia and severe depression. About 100,000 Americans receive ECT every year [source: Mayo Clinic]. Though the process has changed dramatically since its first inception in the 1930s, it remains controversial. In ECT, electric currents sent to your brain cause seizures and change chemical activity. Though no one is sure how exactly it works, after recurring treatments, it may improve schizophrenic symptoms.

Explore links below to learn more about how mental disorders work.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources:

  • "Bleuler, Eugen." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  • "Dissociative Identity Disorder." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  • "Schizophrenia." Encyclopedia of Science. Ed. Rob Nagel. 2nd ed. Online. Detroit: U*X*L, 2007. Science Resource Center. Gale.
  • "Schizophrenia." Encyclopedia of Science. Science Resource Center. Ed. Rob Nagel. 2nd ed. Online. Detroit: U*X*L, 2007. Science Resource Center. Gale.
  • "Schizophrenia." The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec07/ch107/ch107b.html
  • "The negative symptoms of schizophrenia." The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/update0706c.shtml
  • American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV." American Psychiatric Pub., Inc., 1994. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://books.google.com/books?id=3SQrtpnHb9MC&printsec=frontcover&dq=dsm-iv&source=gbs_summary_r
  • Berenson, Alex. "Daring to Think Differently About Schizophrenia." New York Times. Feb. 24, 2008. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/business/24drug.html?ex=1204693200&en=e5f7dd3365d81f4c&ei=5070&emc=eta1
  • Bhalla, Ravinder N. "Schizophreniform Disorder." eMedicine. Aug. 20, 2007. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.emedicine.com/MED/topic3350.htm
  • Brannon, Guy E. "Schizoaffective Disorder." eMedicine. May 18, 2007. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic3514.htm.
  • Cleveland Clinic. "Schizophrenia." (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.clevelandclinic.org/health/health-info/docs/1000/1052.asp?index=5777
  • Greene, Andy. "Syd Barrett (1946 - 2006)." Rolling Stone. Jul. 11, 2006. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/10830377/syd_barrett_19462006
  • Grohol, John M. "Schizophrenia Treatment." PsychCentral. Apr. 10, 2006. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx31t.htm
  • Gupta, Sanjay, Donald W. Black, Stephan Arndt, William C. Hubbard, Nancy C. Andreasen. "Factors Associated With Suicide Attempts among Patients With Schizophrenia." American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc. Psychiatric Services. (Feb. 28, 2008) http://psychservices.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/49/10/1353
  • Javitt, Daniel C., Joseph T. Coyle. "Decoding Schizophrenia." Scientific American. Jan. 2004, Vol. 290 Issue 1, p48-55, 8p, 5c.
  • MayoClinic. "Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): Treating severe depression and mental illness." Jul. 14, 2006. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/electroconvulsive-therapy/MH00022
  • Melton, Lisa. "Body Blazes." Scientific American Jun. 2006, Vol. 294 Issue 6, p24-24, 1p, 1c
  • Minkel, JR. "Fever in, Schizophrenia Out." Scientific American. Oct. 2004, Vol. 291 Issue 4, p38-38, 1/4p
  • NIMH. "An Overview of Schizophrenia -- Information from the National Institute of Mental Health." NIH Publication No. 02-3517. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.schizophrenia.com/pdfs/szoverview.pdf
  • NIMH. "New Factors Identified for Predicting Violence in Schizophrenia." (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2006/new-factors-identified-for-predicting-violence-in-schizophrenia.shtml
  • NIMH. "Schizophrenia." (Feb. 28, 2008) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/schizophrenia/complete-publication.shtml
  • NIMH. "The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America." (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america.shtml
  • PBS. "Interview with John Nash." American Experience. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/sfeature/sf_nash.html
  • Psychology Today. "Celebrity Meltdown." Psychology Today Magazine. Nov/Dec 1999. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19991101-000035.html
  • Sartorius, Norman. "Brief Description of World Health Organization Studies Comparing Mental Health Recovery in Developed and Developing Nations." January 2008. MindFreedom.org. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.mindfreedom.org/kb/mental-health-global/sartorius-on-who
  • Walsh, Elizabeth, Alec Buchanan, Thomas Fahy. "Violence and schizophrenia: examining the evidence." The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2002, 180: 490-495. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://bjp.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/180/6/490.
  • Warner, Richard. "Recovery from Schizophrenia." Psychology Press, 2004. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://books.google.com/books?id=VTqh6vfSdhkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Recovery+from+Schizophrenia+warner+third+world&source=gbs_summary_r
  • WebMD. "Schizophrenia Symptoms." Feb. 1, 2007. (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/guide/schizophrenia-symptoms
  • WHO. "Schizophrenia." (Feb. 28, 2008)http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/schizophrenia/en/
  • Zimmer, Carl. "The Neurobiology of the Self." Scientific American. November 2005, Vol. 293 Issue 5, p92-101, 8p, 1 diagram, 3c.

More to Explore