Your questions answered

Can schizophrenia be cured?

At present, it is not possible to cure schizophrenia permanently. However, treatments are available which can control symptoms and help patients to have a better quality of life. Treatment for schizophrenia may be required for the long term and possibly for life.

How can antipsychotic therapy help?

Antipsychotic therapy is one option that can help reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia. As well as relieving symptoms, it can help to stabilize the condition if it is taken regularly as prescribed. Patients have a much better chance of remaining well and staying out of hospital if they take their antipsychotic medication as prescribed. Medication may help someone experiencing schizophrenia to lead a more normal life again.

How quickly will medication begin to take effect?

People taking antipsychotic medication respond at different rates. However, with oral medication, stable and effective levels should be reached within a few days.1 With injectable medication, the first injection will not start to work straight away. It may take some time, often a few weeks, to get stable and effective levels of medication, although some new injectable medications work more quickly than this. For some injectable medications, oral medication is also required until the injection starts to release effective levels of the medication.

For how long is medication needed?

It is very important that medication is taken regularly without a break (as directed by the healthcare professional), in order to keep symptoms in check and to stop the illness returning (relapse) or the symptoms from becoming worse. People with schizophrenia need to receive medication even, or particularly, if they feel better, in order to sustain the improvement. In many cases patients will need to take antipsychotic medication for a very long time, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Will the treatment have side-effects?

All medicines can have side-effects, but these can usually be managed. Weight gain, extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS) and sedation are often considered to be the most problematic side-effects, and could influence the choice of medication.9

However, some people may not experience any side-effects. Therefore, it is important to talk to the doctor about any side-effects that do happen. It is important that patients do not stop taking their medicine or change the dose without first talking to their doctor. If an individual decides to stop or make changes to their medication without discussing it first with their doctor, the medicine will not work as well as it could. Sometimes side-effects last for just a few weeks while the body adjusts to the new medication, or there may be a way to reduce them, e.g. a doctor may prescribe an additional medication to correct a side-effect.

Can the medication be stopped when someone feels better?

Schizophrenia is a chronic disease so, in many cases, relapse will occur if medication is stopped. Most people may even need to take antipsychotic medication long term to enable them to continue to feel better. Your healthcare team will periodically reassess your medication.

Is the medication addictive?

Patients and families sometimes become worried about the antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia in case they lead to addiction. However, antipsychotic drugs do not trigger addictive behaviour in people who take them; nor do they produce a 'high' (euphoria). Another misconception about antipsychotic drugs is that they act as a kind of mind control, or a ‘chemical straitjacket’. If used at the appropriate dose, antipsychotic drugs do not ‘knock’ people out or take away their ability to think for themselves.

Should patients stop taking the medication if it is not working?

It is very important not to stop medication or change the dose without first talking to the doctor. If people stop or make changes to the medication without first discussing them, the medicine will not work as well.

What should someone do if the symptoms return or get worse even though they are taking the medication?

Talk to the doctor. They may need a different dose, a different drug or a change in the way the medication is given to get better control of the symptoms. Not all antipsychotic medications are the same, and people may need to try different options to find one that works best for them.