Management of schizophrenia in children and adolescents: Focus on pharmacotherapy

Gabriele Masi, Francesca Liboni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Schizophrenia in subjects younger than 13 years is defined as very-early-onset schizophrenia, and its prevalence is estimated at 1 in 10000, while early-onset schizophrenia occurs between 13 and 17 years, and its prevalence is about 0.5. Only a minority of youths show a complete recovery, and the majority of patients present a moderate to severe impairment at the outset. Treatment of schizophrenia always needs both pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions. Nonpharmacological interventions include counselling for the patients and the family, psychological support, behavioural treatments, social and cognitive rehabilitation, assistance in social and scholastic activities, enhancement of social skills and family support. Pharmacological treatment is necessary for remission and control of positive and negative symptoms. Furthermore, proper pharmacotherapy can greatly increase the efficacy of psychosocial interventions. Available literature on pharmacotherapy in children and adolescents with schizophrenia is critically reviewed, including both first- and second-generation antipsychotics. Data on efficacy and safety are reported for all the marketed atypical antipsychotics (clozapine, risperidone, olanzapine, quetiapine, ziprasidone and aripiprazole), based on randomized, placebo-controlled studies and the most relevant open-label or naturalistic studies. Adverse effects of concern are closely analysed, such as extrapyramidal side effects and tardive dyskinesia, metabolic syndrome (including hyperglycaemia and hyperlipidaemia), weight gain, hyperprolactinaemia, hepatotoxicity, seizures, and cardiovascular and haematological adverse effects. Finally, practical guidelines for the management of specific clinical situations are provided: the first phases and the long-term approach to pharmacotherapy, the treatment refractoriness and the use of clozapine in youths, the agitated adolescent and the treatment of negative symptoms and of affective co-morbidity. Current experience indicates that, based on low rates of remission, low effect size of medications and frequent adverse effects, mainly metabolic syndrome, further research is warranted, with both randomized, placebo-controlled studies and long-term, naturalistic follow-up of large samples of patients with different age ranges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-208
Number of pages30
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Adolescents
  • Aripiprazole
  • Children
  • Clozapine
  • Haloperidol
  • Olanzapine
  • Quetiapine
  • Risperidone
  • Schizophrenia
  • Ziprasidone.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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