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Schizophrenia: Recognition and Treatment of Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia

Published on Feb 15, 2015 and last reviewed on Jun 21, 2022   -  5 min read


Schizophrenia is a puzzling psychological disorder that needs immediate medical attention. Read this article to know more.

Schizophrenia: Recognition and Treatment of Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder which has its pathogenesis in neurodevelopmental anomalies. The following domains are noted in schizophrenia.

Positive Symptoms:

Negative Symptoms:

Negative symptoms include blunted affect, alogia, avolition, asociality, amotivation, anhedonia, ideational constriction, apathy or inertia, and abulia.

Blunted affect: This refers to the decreased intensity and repertoire of emotional expressions.

Alogia: This refers to the paucity in the speech content that is evident in patients with schizophrenia.

Avolition: This refers to the deficits in the initiation and maintenance of goal-directed behaviors.

Anhedonia: This is the decreased ability to experience and anticipate pleasure or pleasurable emotions.

Recent studies have pointed out that patients with schizophrenia can enjoy a pleasurable experience. Still, they lack desire to experience these pleasurable pursuits or enjoyable experiences.

The ability to enjoy an experience is called consummatory hedonia, and wanting to experience a pleasurable pursuit is called anticipatory hedonia. Patients with schizophrenia display anticipatory anhedonia.

However, negative symptoms are not unique to schizophrenia alone.

Classification of Negative Symptoms:

Negative symptoms are attributed to deficits in the brain that correspond to the region of rewards, motivation, and pleasure. Negative symptoms may be further classified into:

Enduring Primary Negative Symptoms: The enduring primary negative symptoms are consistently present over long periods of time, despite fluctuations in other aspects of the disease. These enduring primary negative symptoms constitute the deficit syndrome in schizophrenia.

Transitory Secondary Negative Symptoms: Secondary negative symptoms are transitory in nature, fluctuate largely throughout the illness, and abate with a reduction in the other aspects of the disease.

What Causes Secondary Negative Symptoms?

These may be secondary to positive symptoms. If a patient hears voices commanding him not to venture out of his home, he is attacked by his arch-nemesis. Such an individual is bound to stay at home for fear of being attacked. They will also limit his social interaction and display paucity in his speech content. This may be mistaken for apathy and alogia, but in fact, it is a reflection of the aftermath of auditory hallucinations, a positive symptom.

Secondary negative symptoms may then be due to chronic social deprivation. Chronic institutionalization comes across as a severely under-stimulating environment. This is evident in patients who are chronically institutionalized in asylums. Such long bouts of social isolation remove all motivation in these individuals to interact with the outside world, especially when they are overwhelmed by their illness and are unable to integrate their inner perceptual experiences.

Lastly, secondary negative symptoms may be due to medications themselves. In medical terms, it is called neuroleptic-induced dysphoria. The medications used to treat a psychotic breakdown cause a reduction in the levels of the happy hormone serotonin, which may produce a depression-like picture. However, this is not to be confused with the post-psychotic depression that is commonly seen after a psychotic episode. Although the treatment does not differ in both these scenarios, recognition of the individual clinical scenario has important prognostic ramifications. In theory, there is a risk for exacerbating the psychotic symptoms when post-psychotic depression is treated with antidepressants.

Deficit Syndrome:

Deficit syndrome or clustering of these negative symptoms entails a poor quality of life and impaired socio-occupational functioning.

Individuals become unproductive and lead a life of social isolation and deprivation.

The motivation to go out and do something beautiful, achieve a target, strive towards the betterment of oneself, work towards a good community, all day to day goals in the lives of a regular individual, cease to exist.

Degree of Future Negative Symptoms:

One of the strongest predictors of the degree of future negative symptoms is what is called Duration of Untreated Psychosis, or DUP.

DUP refers to the time lag between the appearance of the first psychotic symptoms and the treatment sought for these symptoms.

The greater the duration of the untreated psychosis, the greater are the future negative symptoms and cognitive deficits.

An individual with a substantial cognitive reserve is offered some protection against the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia and dementia.

Since the nature of these cognitive deficits is ubiquitous, these may be evident as early as the prodromal phase of schizophrenia.

The greater the volume of grey matter loss, the greater are the cognitive deficits. The greater the duration of untreated psychosis, the greater is the grey matter volume loss.

What Are the Treatment Options for Negative Symptoms?

The prodromal phase of schizophrenia presents with memory disturbances, vague anxiety, depressive symptoms, and progressive social withdrawal before the positive symptoms set in. This prodrome can last as long as five years before the onset of core psychotic symptoms, like delusions and hallucinations. Factoring in all these points, it becomes imperative to seek comprehensive professional psychiatric help early in the course of the illness.

Management of Negative Symptoms

Non-pharmacological Management:

(a) Psychosocial Interventions: These are as important as psychopharmacological interventions, if not more. Forming support groups and meeting at regular intervals is important. During these group meetings, individual experiences and problems are voiced, client participation is encouraged, the progress made so far is assessed, and future goals are ascertained.

(b) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Therapists aid the patient in unlearning older maladaptive behaviors and focusing on learning newer adaptive ones. Therapy is always individualized as there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Studies have consistently shown that individual therapy is better than group therapy in the treatment of negative symptoms.

(c) Cognitive Remediation Therapy for Cognitive Deficits: This includes pencil-paper tasks, sudoku, crossword, and computer exercises. These exercises need to be tailored to focus on deficits in individual domains like attention, speed of thought processing, verbal working memory, reasoning, and social cognition.

(d) Aerobic exercises help in neurogenesis, synaptogenesis, and modulate neuroplasticity.

Pharmacological Management:

Traditionally negative symptoms have been treated with drugs like Amisulpride and Fluoxetine. Amisulpride can increase the level of the hormone prolactin in the long run. Hyperprolactinemia can set a precedent for osteoporosis.

Recent studies have shown that Clozapine has the highest level of evidence in managing negative symptoms. With Clozapine, the improvements are visible even after six months of initiation of treatment.

Clozapine trial requires regular monitoring of the White Blood Cell counts and will cause constipation, weight gain, salivation, postural hypotension, and palpitations as common side effects.

Brain Stimulation Techniques:

Novel Treatment Approaches:

Emerging Molecular Targets: These include gamma amino-butyric acid modulation. The oxytocin receptors are targeted in this method. This method has been implicated in the social cognition deficits in schizophrenia, along with mirror neurons.


Last reviewed at:
21 Jun 2022  -  5 min read




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