Schizophrenia is a serious psychological disorder characterized by impairments in thinking that can lead to delusions, difficulty in determining reality, and hallucinations. Sufferers are at high risk for substance abuse and suicide. Up to 2.2 million Americans suffer from the disease.
There is no single known cause for schizophrenia, but chemical and structural abnormalities of the brain as well as genetics appear to play a role. Treatments include antipsychotics and psychosocial therapy.
Prior research noted an improvement of symptoms in schizophrenia when patients were taking anti-inflammatories such as celexicob, a cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor. These results suggest that inflammation may play a role in causing some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Dr. Laan Grobbee and his team of researchers in the Netherlands evaluated whether using a medication to treat inflammation might improve the symptoms of schizophrenia. They used aspirin as an anti-inflammatory because cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors are known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Grobbee conducted a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled study with 80 patients who had had schizophrenia for fewer than five years. Patients were randomly assigned to either 1000mg of aspirin or placebo, and treated for three months.
Patients who required antipsychotic medications (70 percent) continued to be treated with olanzapine, clozapine, or risperidone. All patients were given a proton-pump inhibitor as a precaution to protect them from any possible stomach irritation due to the aspirin.
The Posititive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) was used to measure the change in symptoms at the beginning of the treatment and after three months.
After three months, the patients treated with aspirin showed a significant reduction in the PANSS (4.86 points) compared to the patients treated with placebo (1.57 points).
Cognitive function was also assessed, and there did not appear to be any negative effects from the aspirin.
These results suggest that there may indeed be an inflammatory component of schizophrenia that could perhaps be responsive to anti-inflammatory agents such as aspirin. Grobbee noted an even greater improvement in patients with altered immune function.
The authors suggest that aspirin may also theoretically work in treatment of schizophrenia through other mechanisms such as the N-methyl d-aspartate receptor, another active area of research.
Given recent research showing schizophrenics at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other high-risk metabolic conditions such as defects in insulin function, aspirin may be of benefit in more than one way.
It is unclear if aspirin therapy would be effective in someone suffering from the disease for many years. Perhaps after a long period of untreated inflammation, aspirin would be of little effect.
Future research in this area could include larger trials to determine how many patients might be responsive to therapy, studies to determine what other (if any) anti-inflammatory agents might be of benefit, and research to determine whether therapy might be helpful in patients with a long term diagnosis.
Source: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry