The findings are preliminary since 60 patients began the study and 17 completed it. Despite the long recruitment period and multiple study sites, participation was limited by the low incidence of pre-psychotic, or "prodromal," symptoms in the general population.
Schizophrenia affects about one percent of the population, or three million people, and is one of the most disabling medical disorders.
"Delay of the onset of the most severe symptoms of schizophrenia appears to have occurred because of the early recognition and treatment of these persons," said Robert Freedman, M.D., editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Psychiatry. "This enabled them to be better connected with treatment and to cope better with this devastating illness."
The study, "The Prevention Through Risk Identification, Management, and Education (PRIME)," was conducted in two U.S. cities and two Canadian cities during 1998-2003. Senior author of the study was Thomas McGlashan, M.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale.
The participants were mostly adolescents. The individuals or their parents sought treatment because the adolescents had symptoms resembling those of psychosis, but less severe. Symptoms included occasional periods of persecutory thoughts, abnormal sensory experiences such as hearing unusual sounds, and brief periods of incoherent thoughts, among other symptoms. Earlier studies suggest that many of these individuals would eventually develop the full symptoms of schizophrenia--persistent paranoia, auditory hallucinations and disability.