Understanding a Prodromal Schizophrenia Diagnosis: Recognizing Symptoms and How Residential Treatment Can Help

Prodromal symptoms—early warning signs—present the best predictive factors for later schizophrenia and psychosis. About 75 percent of people diagnosed with schizophrenia went through a prodromal stage. If the symptoms can be recognized and lead to a diagnosis, individuals can get useful early interventions. Early treatment slows the onset of active mental illness and makes coping with schizophrenia and psychosis easier in the future.

Schizophrenia is a scary diagnosis to get, but part of that fear is triggered by lack of knowledge. If you or someone you care about has received a diagnosis of prodromal schizophrenia, it can be even more confusing. This early phase of the illness, which many people don’t know about, has subtler symptoms and often predicts full onset of schizophrenia.

If you can help someone get this early diagnosis before it transitions to active schizophrenia, they may have a better long-term outcome. Treatment during the prodrome stage can actually delay the onset of psychosis. Expert, residential care during this early warning phase is often more effective than later treatment. Know the signs of prodromal schizophrenia and reach out for diagnosis and treatment.

Stages of Schizophrenia

One important thing to understand about schizophrenia is that it often progresses through stages. Most people first go through a prodromal stage, transition to an active stage, and finally see symptoms ease into a residual stage. Every person has a unique experience and may skip a stage, go through them for different durations or at different ages, and have symptoms of varying severity.

  • Prodrome. The idea of a prodromal phase of schizophrenia dates back more than 100 years but has only recently been fully accepted. Symptoms include a range of unusual behavioral changes. The prodrome typically lasts for several years and causes many of the social consequences of schizophrenia.
  • Active. This is when true psychosis begins and when an individual can be diagnosed with schizophrenia. It causes the characteristic symptoms of delusions, hallucinations, changes in motor behaviors, inappropriate emotional responses, and confused, disordered thoughts and speech.
  • Residual. The active stage of schizophrenia is not indefinite. It often reverts to milder symptoms, similar to those seen in the prodrome. Many people go back to the active phase from here.

Signs and Symptoms of Prodromal Schizophrenia

The recognition of the prodromal phase makes earlier interventions possible, which improves the prognosis for someone ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia. If someone in your life has started acting unusual and is exhibiting troubling behavioral or personality changes, do not take them lightly.

Reach out to get help, to get a diagnosis, even just to see your loved one’s doctor or pediatrician. Be aware of the symptoms and signs of prodromal schizophrenia so you can act quickly:

  • Social isolation and withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing, paying attention, and making decisions
  • Apathy and lack of motivation
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Inappropriate reactions or emotional responses to people and situations

Prodromal schizophrenia often begins in the teenage years or in the 20s. This can make some of the signs difficult to distinguish from typical teen or young adult behaviors. Be especially concerned if someone you know well is behaving in ways that are particularly unusual for them.

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How Is Prodromal Schizophrenia Treated?

Since experts began to recognize this early phase, they have been able to develop more focused treatments to delay onset of active schizophrenia and for better overall outcomes. Treatment for prodromal schizophrenia usually includes the same elements as for schizophrenia. What is most important is to create and adjust treatment for the specific needs of each individual.

  • Medications. Patients with schizophrenia usually take antipsychotics to control symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. Those in the prodrome may benefit from these, but they may also do better with other medications. Some studies have found that medications that reduce stress, like antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and mood stabilizers, can help manage early symptoms.
  • Psychological interventions. This is a crucial element of treatment and includes several strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients challenge their own negative thinking and delusions; stress management strategies help reduce symptoms and improve coping skills; social skills training helps patients interact with others in more positive ways and develop better relationships; and psychoeducation for patients and their families improves communication, understanding of the disease, and support strategies.
  • Dietary supplements. Studies have shown that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can reduce symptoms in several mental illnesses including schizophrenia. These fats may actually reduce or delay the transition from prodromal to active schizophrenia and psychosis.

Most of the research into treatment for schizophrenia has involved patients in the active phase. However, researchers have found that using many of these same strategies, adjusted as needed, help people in the prodromal stage cope and have better outcomes.

Why Choose Residential Treatment for Prodromal Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness with serious consequences without good treatment and management. Prodromal schizophrenia may not seem as serious, but aggressive treatment will help mitigate later risks of severe symptoms. It provides the individual with education and tools to better cope with this illness, which is chronic and will likely come and go over the years.

For these reasons, residential treatment is a smart option. Taking your loved one out of their home and their normal life and allowing them the time and space to do this hard work is so important. There are many other great reasons to do residential care now:

  • A residential facility can provide a multi-disciplinary team of experts for a well-rounded treatment experience.
  • Changing the environment can make it easier to accept and engage in treatment.
  • Treatment facilities work with each client to ensure they get individualized treatment plans.
  • A residential facility can offer a wider range of therapies as well as medical care, alternative and holistic care, recreation, and other activities.
  • In a residential center, your loved one will have the benefit of being part of a supportive community, learning and putting social skills into practice.
  • Most residential facilities include the entire family, an essential part of managing this chronic illness over the long term.

Prodromal schizophrenia is not always easy to detect, but it is so important to catch this illness early. The sooner you can get your loved one into treatment, the better their future looks. Take your concerns seriously, don’t ignore them, and reach out to an expert to get advice and a diagnosis.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.