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This research assesses whether multi-year treatment with antipsychotic medications reduces or eliminates psychosis in schizophrenia. It provides 20 years of longitudinal data on the frequency and severity of psychotic activity in samples of schizophrenia patients (SZ) treated versus those not treated with antipsychotic medications.
A total of 139 early young schizophrenia and mood-disordered patients were assessed at index hospitalization and then reassessed six times over 20 years for psychosis and other major variables.
At each follow-up assessment over the 20 years, a surprisingly high percentage of SZ treated with antipsychotics longitudinally had psychotic activity. More than 70% of SZ continuously prescribed antipsychotics experienced psychotic activity at four or more of six follow-up assessments over 20 years. Longitudinally, SZ not prescribed antipsychotics showed significantly less psychotic activity than those prescribed antipsychotics (p < 0.05).
The 20-year data indicate that, longitudinally, after the first few years, antipsychotic medications do not eliminate or reduce the frequency of psychosis in schizophrenia, or reduce the severity of post-acute psychosis, although it is difficult to reach unambiguous conclusions about the efficacy of treatment in purely naturalistic or observational research. Longitudinally, on the basis of their psychotic activity and the disruption of functioning, the condition of the majority of SZ prescribed antipsychotics for multiple years would raise questions as to how many of them are truly in remission.
The prevailing standard of care in the field involves background assumptions about the importance of prolonged use of antipsychotic medications for all schizophrenia (SZ) patients. However, do all SZ patients need antipsychotics indefinitely? Are there factors that help to identify which SZ patients can enter into prolonged periods of recovery without antipsychotics? This 20-year longitudinal research studied these issues.
A total of 139 early young psychotic patients from the Chicago Follow-up Study, including 70 patients with SZ syndromes and 69 with mood disorders, were assessed, prospectively, at the acute phase and then followed up six times over the next 20 years. Patients were assessed with standardized instruments for major symptoms, psychosocial functioning, personality, attitudinal variables, neurocognition and treatment.
At each follow-up, 30–40% of SZ patients were no longer on antipsychotics. Starting at the 4.5-year follow-ups and continuing thereafter, SZ patients not on antipsychotics for prolonged periods were significantly less likely to be psychotic and experienced more periods of recovery; they also had more favorable risk and protective factors. SZ patients off antipsychotics for prolonged periods did not relapse more frequently.
The data indicate that not all SZ patients need treatment with antipsychotics continuously throughout their lives. SZ patients not on antipsychotics for prolonged periods are a self-selected group with better internal resources associated with greater resiliency. They have better prognostic factors, better pre-morbid developmental achievements, less vulnerability to anxiety, better neurocognitive skills, less vulnerability to psychosis and experience more periods of recovery.
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