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Until a few years ago, the mainstays of schizophrenia treatment were medications that reduced the amount of available dopamine in the brain. These drugs relieve the symptoms of hallucinations, delusions, and confused thinking in about 60% of patients, and in 70-80% of those having a first attack. Unfortunately, they also can cause severe side effects, including a number of movement disorders, and as a result, patients need to be closely monitored.

Newer drugs influence lots of different neurotransmitter systems at the same time and usually produce fewer side effects. They are especially helpful in treating patients who haven't responded to other treatment, and some doctors are now prescribing these "atypical" drugs as the first-line medication.

Relying on drug treatment alone can be risky, however. The side effects -- as well as the confused, paranoid thinking that comes along with schizophrenia -- may lead patients to skip doses or to stop taking the medication altogether. To prevent this from happening, some doctors now give patients their medicine as a shot, rather than a pill, and researchers are working to develop longer-acting drugs with fewer side effects.