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Schizophr Res. 2013 Aug;148(1-3):117-21. doi: 10.1016/j.schres.2013.05.016. Epub 2013 Jun 5.

The evidence for illness progression after relapse in schizophrenia.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Tygerberg, 7505, Cape Town, South Africa.


It has long been suspected that relapse in schizophrenia is associated with disease progression in so far as time to response is longer, negative and other symptoms persist, some patients become treatment refractory and neuroprogression in terms of structural brain changes may occur. This article examines the evidence for illness progression after relapse in patients with schizophrenia. It reports on indirect evidence obtained from retrospective, naturalistic and brain-imaging studies, as well as a few prospective studies examining pre- and post-relapse treatment response. Findings suggest that the treatment response after relapse is variable, with many patients responding rapidly, others exhibiting protracted impairment of response and a subgroup displaying emergent refractoriness. This subgroup comprises about 1 in 6 patients, irrespective of whether it is the first or a subsequent relapse, and even when the delay between onset of first symptoms of relapse and initiation of treatment is brief. While there is a lack of well-designed studies investigating the post-relapse treatment outcome, available evidence gives sufficient cause for concern that, in addition to the considerable psychosocial risks, an additional risk of biological harm may be associated with relapse.


Progression; Psychosis; Relapse; Schizophrenia

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