Early Detection of Schizophrenia: The Time Is Now

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Medical research often takes a slow and unpredictable pace. The hours spent defining the question, setting up the experiment, and acquiring and then analyzing the data before getting to see the results makes for a long and arduous process. When you then add the time that it takes for new research findings to be translated into clinical practice, the rate of change in health care can be glacial. Psychiatry is certainly no exception to the seemingly snail’s pace of progress in health care.

….While schizophrenia has been historically associated with a therapeutic nihilism due to its devastating and often irreversible consequences, research over the last two decades has changed attitudes and inspired optimism. Studies show that the earlier patients are diagnosed and treated, the better their responses to treatment. This leads to improved outcomes and higher chances of full recovery. The corollary to this is continued engagement of patients in treatment following their recovery and relapse prevention.

Among the reasons for this are findings from neuroimaging studies showing that the hallmark clinical deterioration of schizophrenia is associated with cortical gray matter atrophy, reflecting the loss of cell processes and synaptic connections. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease though, for which there currently is no “disease-modifying” treatment, early intervention and relapse prevention methods for schizophrenia coupled with antipsychotic medication may prevent illness progression.

by Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., Psychiatric News

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