NYMC Faculty Publications

Agitation in Schizophrenia: Origins and Evidence-Based Treatment

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Journal Title

Current Opinion in Psychiatry

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Document Type

Review Article

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Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Agitation associated with schizophrenia remains an important clinical concern and if not managed effectively, can escalate into aggressive behavior. This is a review of the recent biomedical literature on agitation in individuals with schizophrenia.

RECENT FINDINGS: Themes in the recent literature include consideration of comorbidities such as cigarette smoking and cannabis use. Surveys reveal that pharmacological approaches to manage agitation have changed little, with haloperidol remaining in common use and intramuscular administration of antipsychotics and/or benzodiazepines being frequently administered to more severely agitated/aggressive individuals. Of note, ketamine has been recently adopted for use in severe agitation in medical emergency departments, but the risk of this medication for people with schizophrenia is unclear. At present, inhaled loxapine remains the only rapidly acting noninjectable FDA-approved treatment for agitation associated with schizophrenia. In development is an intranasal formulation for olanzapine (a well characterized atypical antipsychotic already approved to treat agitation) and a sublingual film for dexmedetomidine (an α2-adrenergic agonist used as an anesthetic and now being repurposed).

SUMMARY: Comorbidities can contribute to agitation and can make an accurate differential diagnosis challenging. The ongoing development of rapidly acting novel formulations of antiagitation medications, if successful, may facilitate clinical treatment by providing additional options.