Brain images provide a means of screening for schizophrenia

Brain imaging by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London has revealed structural changes in the brain of schizophrenics, which could provide a means of identifying those people most at risk. This could enable doctors to diagnose schizophrenia before the onset of psychotic symptoms, and intervene before the condition takes hold.In a study published in November American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Tonmoy Sharma and his team studied 37 patients who were experiencing their first episode of

November 1, 2000

Brain imaging by scientists at the Institute of Psychiatry in London has revealed structural changes in the brain of schizophrenics, which could provide a means of identifying those people most at risk. This could enable doctors to diagnose schizophrenia before the onset of psychotic symptoms, and intervene before the condition takes hold.

In a study published in November American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Tonmoy Sharma and his team studied 37 patients who were experiencing their first episode of psychosis, 13 of whom were medication-naive. They compared these patients with 25 healthy volunteers. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Dr Sharma found that the patient group had significant deficits in cortical grey matter, temporal lobe grey matter and whole brain volume, as well as significant enlargement of the lateral and third ventricles.

Scanning the brain in the earliest stage of schizophrenia, and before the use of antipsychotic drugs, enabled Dr Sharma and colleagues to determine whether the brain changes were due to the illness, or to other effects such as ageing or side-effects from medication. In its National Health Service plan published in July, the UK government prioritised early treatment for psychosis. Dr Sharma reports in the November American Journal of Psychiatry: "With a suitable schizophrenia screening method, for the first time, preventive psychiatry becomes a realistic possibility."

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