The most recent medications typically prescribed for schizophrenia include a class of drugs called “atypical antipsychotics.” Atypical means they work in a manner that is significantly different than the previous class of antipsychotic medications. “Antipsychotic” refers to the fact that these medications were initially thought only to help people with psychosis (a common symptom of schizophrenia). People with schizophrenia who take this medication will typically find that their hallucinations or delusions will significantly decrease and, in some cases, disappear altogether.
Since their initial development, further research has demonstrated that atypical antipsychotics can also have helpful mood stabilizing properties. Because of this, this class of drugs is commonly prescribed for someone with bipolar disorder. Someone who takes an atypical antipsychotic will find that their moods swings will typically become less frequent and less intense.
There are seven commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotic medications for schizophrenia:
- Abilify (aripiprazole)
- Risperdal (risperidone)
- Zyprexa (olanzapine)
- Seroquel (quetiapine)
- Cloazril (clozapine)
- Symbyax (olanzapine/fluoxetine)
- Geodon (ziprasidone)
Common side effects of these medications include weight gain and drowsiness. Weight gain can be a significant issue — most people taking an atypical antipsychotic can expect to gain weight. Because weight gain is also associated with an increased risk for Type II diabetes, individuals taking an atyptical antipsychotic should be carefully monitored by their physician. Exercise and a nutritional, balanced diet are also important.
It is a common misnomer that atypical antipsychotic medications have less side effects than other drugs. Atypical antipsychotic medications have significant side effects, it’s just that their side effect profile is different than that of most other drugs used to treat mental disorders. Your doctor cannot tell you whether a specific medication is going to help you or what side effects you will experience — only through a trial and error process will you find a medication that is effective for you with minimal side effects.
Psychiatrists will typically try a course of an atypical antipsychotic for the treatment of schizophrenia before trying any other medication. Your psychiatrist may also prescribe an additional medication to help supplement the effectiveness of the atypical antipsychotic.
Always take all medications as directed and ask your doctor what to do if you miss a dose.