Can Schizophrenia Be Cured?
Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that has no cure. It causes symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions, disordered thinking and speech, abnormal behaviors, and changes in emotional affect. While this condition cannot be cured, it can be successfully treated. Antipsychotic medications are crucial for managing symptoms. Medications are most important in treatment for schizophrenia, but patients are also helped by therapy, lifestyle changes, social support and services, and self-management. Schizophrenia must be treated indefinitely to successfully manage symptoms.
Schizophrenia is a mental illness and a psychotic condition characterized by a break with reality that causes a number of symptoms. The most typical symptoms are hallucinations and delusions, but this illness can also cause disordered thinking, unusual behaviors and emotional affect, mood changes, depression, and other symptoms that make it difficult to communicate with others, to relate to people, to hold down a job, to take care of responsibilities at home, or to be successful in school.
Schizophrenia is a severe and chronic mental illness, which means there is no cure for it. There are treatments, lifestyle changes, and other strategies that can be used to manage symptoms and to allow someone with schizophrenia to live a more normal life. A combination of medication and therapy is the most effective treatment, and although most people who get treatment see improvements, this condition requires ongoing, lifelong management.
Treatment Begins with Diagnosis
Although there is no cure for schizophrenia, treatment can be very effective and makes a big difference in the life of someone living with this disruptive condition. The first step to getting the best treatment is to get an accurate diagnosis. There are five categories of symptoms used to diagnose schizophrenia:
- Hallucinations. Hallucinations are sounds, voices, images, or sensations that a person believes are real but aren’t actually there.
- Delusions. Delusions are false beliefs that cannot be changed by facts or logic.
- Disorganized thoughts and speech. Thoughts jump from one thing to another very quickly, resulting in difficulty communicating and speech that doesn’t make sense to anyone else.
- Disorganized behavior. Disorganized behaviors may include aggression, agitation, acting childlike, or anything else unusual.
- Negative symptoms. Negative symptoms of schizophrenia may include decreased emotional affect or response, lethargy, or even catatonia, showing no emotions or expression and barely moving.
In order to be diagnosed, a person must have at least two of the above symptom types, and one of those must be hallucinations, delusions, or disorganized speech. The symptoms must be prevalent for at least a month at a time, cause significant problems in a person’s life, and cannot be better explained by another condition or a medication or drug.
Treating Schizophrenia with Medication
It can be easy to assume that any medication is a cure for an illness, but this isn’t always true. With schizophrenia the medications used to treat it help to manage symptoms, but they do not cure the condition. Even though they do not provide a cure, they have an important role to play and help many people with schizophrenia get relief. Therapy alone is not enough to treat schizophrenia.
The medications used for schizophrenia are called antipsychotic drugs. These drugs are thought to work by acting on the neurotransmitter in the brain known as dopamine. They help relieve symptoms but can also cause side effects. The goal of using antipsychotics to treat schizophrenia is to use the lowest dose possible or the smallest combination of drugs that manage symptoms. Some patients may have to try more than one medication, or a combination of drugs, before settling on treatment that gets results with the fewest side effects.
Antipsychotics include first and second generation medications. The first generation drugs generally cause more side effects, but they are also less expensive. Second generation antipsychotics are generally preferred, as they come with less risk of serious side effects. Examples of second generation antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia are:
- Aripiprazole (Abilify)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
- Lurasidone (Latuda)
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Paliperidone (Invega)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
Some of the first generation antipsychotics that are sometimes still used include chlorpromazine (Thorazine), fluphenazine (Prolixin), haloperidol (Haldol), and perphenazine (Trifalon). Although these and the second generation medications can cause troubling side effects, it is important to not stop using them without direction from a doctor. A prescribing doctor can help transition patients from one medication to another to reduce side effects.
Therapy for Schizophrenia
Medication is a must for schizophrenia, but patients can also benefit from various types of therapy. One-on-one therapies, like cognitive behavioral therapy, can help patients take active steps to manage their illness. Therapists guide patients through practical actions that help them recognize and change negative behaviors and moods, better relate to other people, set and pursue goals, and learn and use healthy coping skills.
Other types of therapies can also help people with schizophrenia manage symptoms. Family therapy, for instance, can be very important in helping loved ones better understand schizophrenia and the kind of support that is needed. Social support groups and group therapy programs help individuals with schizophrenia practice social skills and get support from others who go through similar experiences.
In addition to therapy, patients can also get good results from other types of social and community programs. Vocational training to help them learn job skills and land and maintain paying positions as well as social skill training programs can provide ways for individuals to integrate better into the community. Coordinated specialty care programs may also be available and can help individuals get assistance with several areas, including work, training, school, family therapy, and social skills.
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Lifestyle Changes and Self-Management
Making positive changes in all areas of one’s life supplement and support medical and psychological treatments. Maintaining good physical health, for instance, can help improve overall wellness and quality of life, while spending time with friends and family provides a good source of social support. Some strategies for making positive changes and for being proactive in managing one’s own mental health include:
- Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting enough sleep
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Spending time with family and friends
- Taking time to do enjoyable and relaxing activities
- Avoiding taking on too many responsibilities
- Setting goals
- Using relaxation strategies, like meditation or yoga
- Keeping up with treatment and communicating with doctors about changing symptoms and side effects
- Take advantage of available social services
Preventing and Managing Complications
Another important part of managing schizophrenia is recognizing and dealing with the complications it can cause. All of the challenging symptoms can contribute to secondary problems, like suicide, self-harm, financial problems, academic difficulties, substance abuse, depression and anxiety, social isolation, and even being the victim of a crime or becoming homeless.
Only treating the condition does not necessarily help a person with schizophrenia live their best life. Anyone with this mental illness should be screened for other mental illnesses and substance use disorders and get treatment as needed. Family support is also crucial in helping manage or prevent some of these complications. Having family to live with, financial support, and a social support system can reduce the risk of negative behaviors, like self-harm, and can help a person maintain a job or get through school.
There may be no cure for schizophrenia, but the outlook for patients who get diagnosed and seek treatment is generally good. Most of those who receive treatment will improve. Many can return to a more stable lifestyle, hold down a job, and potentially live independently. It is important, however, even when treatment is successful very quickly, to stick with it. It can be tempting to stop going to therapy or stop using a medication, but this is a chronic illness and it requires ongoing care.