Researchers have identified five risk factors in teenagers that can help predict whether a person will go on to develop full-blown schizophrenia.
The five key risk factors identified by researchers are:
- A genetic risk for schizophrenia (as determined by family history), combined with recent decline in the person’s general functioning
- Higher levels of unusual thought content (e.g., thoughts that make little sense)
- An increase in suspicion and/or paranoia (e.g., believing teachers are out to get them)
- An increase in social impairment (e.g., staying away or not talking to friends)
- Past or current substance abuse
These five characteristics, identified at the study’s beginning, sharply increased the likelihood that a teen would develop schizophrenia. Approximately 70 to 80 percent of the people who had 2 or more of these symptoms went on to develop full-blown schizophrenia.
The findings show that it may be feasible in the near future to reliably identify a person’s risk of schizophrenia as accurately as gauging his or her risk of heart disease or diabetes, and raise the possibility of preventing psychotic illness, Dr. Tyrone D. Cannon of the University of California, Los Angeles and colleagues wrote in the study. It is believed that the earlier schizophrenia is identified and treated, the less damaging its course may be.
Cannon and his team followed 291 teenagers considered to be at high risk for developing schizophrenia for two-and-a-half years to look for a more accurate predictive technique. All of the study participants had been diagnosed with prodromal syndrome for schizophrenia, meaning they had non-specific symptoms such as paranoia, disorganized communication, and unusual thoughts that could signal the onset of full-blown disease.
Thirty-five percent of the study participants developed schizophrenia during the study.
The researchers suggest that their data show that the first two-and-a-half years after a diagnosis of prodromal syndrome offer “a critical window of opportunity” for identifying brain changes that may lead to psychosis, and for intervening to slow or even prevent the development of psychosis and disability.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Patrick D. McGorry of the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and colleagues write that large clinical trials are now needed to investigate early treatment of schizophrenia. “While there are risks in the endeavor to reshape the early course of schizophrenia and related psychoses, it is now within our grasp,” they conclude.
The findings appear in the February issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Source: Archives of General Psychiatry