NYU Langone psychiatrists treat people who have schizophrenia with medication to control symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. Antipsychotic medications are the most commonly prescribed therapies. These medications control symptoms by altering levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are chemicals in the brain that affect mood, movement, and the way a person responds to rewards and experiences pleasure.
Many antipsychotic medications can help to reduce hallucinations and psychotic episodes, during which a person experiences a sudden change in personality and behavior and can’t tell what is real from what is imagined. NYU Langone psychiatrists are experts in matching the medication to the person. These medications are often used in combination with psychosocial therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
Haloperidol, fluphenazine, and chlorpromazine are known as conventional, or typical, antipsychotics and have been used to treat schizophrenia for years. However, they sometimes have movement-related side effects, such as tremors and dystonia, a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions. Long-term use of typical antipsychotics may lead to tardive dyskinesia, a condition that causes uncontrollable muscle movements, most often around the mouth.
NYU Langone doctors help to minimize these side effects by monitoring people with schizophrenia regularly. During these routine follow-up visits, doctors can adjust the medication type and dose, if necessary.
Newer medications, called atypical antipsychotics, are also effective in relieving the symptoms of schizophrenia. These medications, including quetiapine, risperidone, and aripiprazole, are generally prescribed because they pose a lower risk of certain serious side effects than conventional antipsychotics.
But atypical antipsychotic medications aren’t without risk. They can cause changes to a person’s metabolism, increasing the risk of developing diabetes and high cholesterol. People taking atypical antipsychotics must have their weight monitored and the glucose and lipid levels in their blood checked regularly by a doctor during the course of treatment to avoid serious complications.
Clozapine, also an atypical antipsychotic, is sometimes prescribed when people do not respond adequately to other antipsychotic medications. However, it may cause additional side effects, such as kidney or bladder problems. For this reason, the doctor conducts frequent blood testing to monitor health and prevent serious complications.
Some symptoms of schizophrenia, such as feeling agitated, tend to disappear within days of taking antipsychotic medication. Symptoms like delusions and hallucinations usually go away within a few weeks. Most people take medication for schizophrenia on a long-term basis.