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Sunday, 6 January, 2002, 00:01 GMT
Schizophrenia drug cuts relapses
People in lower classes are not at increased risk of schizophrenia
Relapse after treatment is common in schizophrenics
An anti-psychotic drug has shown encouraging signs of helping to reduce the risk of relapse in schizophrenia patients.

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine found the one-year rate of relapse for patients taking risperidone was about 25%.

The same rate of relapse for patients taking the old generation haloperidol was about 50%.

Scientists believe risperidone could help counter the huge cost to the health system of psychotic relapse, which is common among schizophrenic patients.

Reducing the rate of relapse is a tremendous benefit to the patient

Professor John Csernansky
The study's co-ordinator Professor John Csernansky said: "Relapse prevention is the most important indicator of therapeutic success over the long term.

"Reducing the rate of relapse is a tremendous benefit to the patient, but it's also a benefit for the family and the system of care that has to pay for the hospitalisation that often goes along with relapse."

The study involved nearly 400 patients with schizophrenia, who were being treated at 40 sites across the US.

All study patients had records of having relapsed within the 24 months prior to the start of the study.

Fewer side effects

Haloperidol and other traditional anti-psychotic drugs block activity in brain cells at the neuron's dopamine receptor.

Newer drugs like risperidone block the dopamine receptor, but also act on other receptors.

Risperidone also presents fewer neurological side effects.

Dr Peter McKenna, who treats schizophrenics at Fulbourn hospital in Cambridge, said: "Schizophrenia is a chronic disorder and doesn't clear up by itself.

"It's a disease of relapse and remission.

"No one has really looked at relapse prevention with atypical drugs.

"This is excellent news."

Professor Csernansky says more research needs to be done to cut relapse rates, but he believes the reduction offered by risperidone is a very positive development.

Just under 1% of the general population has schizophrenia.

It is estimated schizophrenia cost the US $33bn a year in the early 1990's both in direct treatment and lost earnings.

See also:

07 Dec 01 | Health
Schizophrenia 'linked to racism'
10 Apr 01 | Health
Virus link to schizophrenia
08 Jul 01 | Health
Schizophrenics denied best drugs
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