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Schizophrenia: Recognition and Treatment of Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia

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Schizophrenia: Recognition and Treatment of Negative Symptoms in Schizophrenia

4 min read


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

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Preetha. J

Published At February 15, 2015
Reviewed AtFebruary 23, 2024

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:

  • Positive symptoms include delusions and hallucinations.
  • Ubiquitous cognitive deficits.
  • Motor symptoms (dyskinesias).
  • Deficits in social cognition or socio-occupational functioning.

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:

  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) has been proven to be very effective in the treatment of negative symptoms.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also used in the management of some negative symptoms, although it is not as effective for negative symptoms as it is for depression and positive symptoms.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Does Someone With Schizophrenia Do?

Being a serious mental condition, schizophrenic patients perceive reality differently. Schizophrenia may include hallucinations, delusions, and severely irrational thinking and behavior, making it difficult to carry out daily activities and incapacitating. Schizophrenia patients require ongoing care.


What Are the Five Symptoms of Schizophrenia?

The five main symptoms of schizophrenia include-
Disorganized thinking and speech.
Abnormal motor behavior.
Negative symptoms.


How to Describe Schizophrenia in Simple Terms?

A mental condition called schizophrenia is characterized by disturbances in thought, perception, emotional reactivity, and social relationships. Although each person's experience with schizophrenia is unique, the condition is often chronic and can be both severe and incapacitating.


Is Schizophrenia Reversible?

Although there is no treatment available for schizophrenia, it is still possible to lead a fulfilling life despite the condition. There are numerous efficient therapies that are best delivered by a team. Some of these include medication, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, social services, and equipment to enable the patient to continue their education or employment.


What Do People With Schizophrenia Do All Day?

People with schizophrenia might remain still and silent for several hours. These symptoms make it particularly challenging for people with schizophrenia to maintain employment, build relationships, and perform other daily tasks. They also exhibit alterations in feelings, gestures, and behavior.


How to Recognize a Schizophrenic Person?

Numerous issues with behavior, emotions and thinking (cognition) are present in schizophrenia. The signs and symptoms can be different, but they typically entail delusions, hallucinations, or slurred speech and indicate a reduced capacity for function.


What Happens if Schizophrenia Is Not Treated?

Schizophrenia entails a variety of cognitive issues. If schizophrenia is not treated, it can lead to major problems that affect every aspect of life. Suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts are some of the complications that schizophrenia may result in or be linked to. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety are some other outcomes.


Are Individuals Who Suffer From Schizophrenia Aware of Their Condition?

Typically, those with the condition are unaware until a doctor or counselor informs them. They will not even be aware that there is a significant problem. If they experience symptoms, such as difficulty thinking clearly, they may attribute them to stress or fatigue.


Do People With Schizophrenia Sleep a Lot?

In schizophrenic patients, excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and sleep issues are frequent. EDS in schizophrenia can have a number of causes, such as neurobiological abnormalities, sleep issues, and medicine, or it can even be a symptom of schizophrenia itself.


Can Someone Who Has Schizophrenia Recover?

There are some people who "completely" recover from schizophrenia. 50 % of people with schizophrenia recover or improve to the point that they can work and live independently ten years after diagnosis. 25 % do better, but they still require an extensive network of support groups to get by.


What Year Does Schizophrenia Begin?

Most schizophrenics get their first symptoms in their mid-to-late-20s. However, it can happen later, up to their mid-30s. When schizophrenia develops before the age of 18, it is referred to as an early onset disorder. In youngsters under the age of 13, schizophrenia rarely develops.


Does Schizophrenia Worsen With Advancing Age?

The clinical appearance of schizophrenia can change over the course of the illness, despite stable cognitive performance. While many people with schizophrenia experience stable symptoms and functionality throughout their life, some will experience worsening.


Can Mother or Father Pass on Schizophrenia to Their Kids?

If someone in the family is affected by schizophrenia, the chances of developing it are higher. 10 % more likely if it is a parent, brother, or sister. A 40 % probability of getting it if both parents have it.


What Are the Things That People With Schizophrenia Must Stay Away From?

In those who are vulnerable, some drugs, particularly cannabis, cocaine, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), or Amphetamines, may cause symptoms of schizophrenia. Cocaine or Amphetamine usage can result in psychosis, and those recovering from an earlier episode may have a relapse.
Dr. Alok Vinod Kulkarni
Dr. Alok Vinod Kulkarni



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