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Childhood-Onset Schizophrenia Medication

  • Author: Annemarie K Loth, MD; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 03, 2014

Medication Summary

Historically, atypical antipsychotics are the first-line therapy for individuals with childhood-onset schizophrenia.

Nonapproved second-generation antipsychotics

These drugs are approved for adult-onset schizophrenia, but not for pediatric patients. For discussion purposes, information is included here.

Iloperidone (Fanapt) is structurally similar to risperidone and paliperidone. It was FDA approved for the treatment of adult-onset schizophrenia in 2009. It blocks dopamine D-2 receptors and serotonin 5HT-2A receptors but can block histamine receptors and alpha-adrenergic receptors. Consequently, it can cause sedation, weight gain, dizziness, orthostatic hypotension, and reflex tachycardia. Rarely, it can cause electrocardiogram changes, most specifically, QTC interval prolongation. In addition, higher doses of iloperidone can cause extrapyramidal effects and hyperprolactinemia. It has not received indication for the treatment of childhood- or adolescent-onset schizophrenia.[43]

Asenapine (Saphris) is a dibenzo-oxepino pyrrole drug that blocks D-2 and 5HT-2A receptors and has a high affinity for other dopamine and serotonin receptors, histamine receptors, and alpha-adrenergic receptors, but does not have significant anticholinergic effects. It was approved by the FDA in 2009 for the treatment of adult-onset schizophrenia. It can cause somnolence, dizziness, decreased oral sensation, akathisia, parkinsonian symptoms, and weight gain. It can rarely cause prolongation of the QTC interval and hyperprolactinemia. Asenapine has not been approved for use in children or adolescents with schizophrenia or psychotic symptoms.[43]

Lurasidone (Latuda) is a benzoisothiazol derivative drug that is structurally related to buspirone. It was approved by the FDA in 2010 for the treatment of adult-onset schizophrenia and blocks D-2 and 5HT-2A receptors. It has a high affinity for serotonin 5HT-7 receptors and moderate affinity for alpha-2-adrenergic receptors. It does not have significant anticholinergic or antihistaminic effects. It is a partial agonist at 5HT-1 receptors. Adverse effects include akathisia, parkinsonian symptoms, nausea, agitation, and somnolence. Lurasidone is also not approved for the treatment of early-onset schizophrenia.[43]


Antipsychotics, Typical

Class Summary

Controlled trials of haloperidol and loxapine are available, as are single-blind trials of thioridazine and thiothixene. However, thioridazine is no longer a preferred medication because of its significant cardiac toxicity and risk of death.

Although little difference in the efficacy of individual typical antipsychotics is observed, a difference in the adverse effect profile is noted. High-potency drugs (eg, haloperidol) have an increased risk of extrapyramidal adverse effects, whereas low-potency drugs cause more sedation and orthostatic hypotension. Extrapyramidal adverse effects can occur early, late, or during withdrawal.

Problems that occur early include dystonia, parkinsonism, akathisia, and neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). Dystonia affects adolescent boys more often, but parkinsonism is less common in children. The late-appearing and withdrawal adverse effects include choreiform movements or, less commonly, dystonia. Other adverse effects of antipsychotics include weight gain,[47] photosensitivity, decreased white blood cell count, jaundice, blurred vision, constipation, amenorrhea, and gynecomastia.

Haloperidol (Haldol)


Haloperidol is a high-potency antipsychotic of the butyrophenone class that is available in tablet, solution, and injectable forms.

A study published in 1992 compared the efficacy of haloperidol versus placebo in 16 children diagnosed with very-early-onset schizophrenia ranging in age from 5-11 years. Haloperidol was associated with a significant reduction in positive and negative symptoms when compared with placebo.

Haloperidol decanoate is a depot formulation available for monthly intramuscular (IM) injection.

Thioridazine (Mellaril, Mellaril-S)


Thioridazine is a low-potency neuroleptic that demonstrated effectiveness in reducing symptoms in children with schizophrenia in a controlled trial. This agent is administered orally and is available in tablet, concentrate, and suspension forms. However, significant arrhythmogenic effects limit use of this drug.


Antipsychotics, Atypical

Class Summary

Generally, atypical antipsychotics are chosen as first-line antipsychotic therapy. As of April 2011, aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone, and paliperidone have been FDA approved for treatment of pediatric schizophrenia (ages 13-17 y).[49]

Several studies have been performed investigating the efficacy of atypical antipsychotics in the treatment of childhood-onset schizophrenia. Specifically, A 6-week international, multisite, placebo-controlled trial showed that aripiprazole (10-30 mg),[50] olanzapine (2.5-20 mg),[51] quetiapine (400 mg or 800 mg),[52] , paliperidone (1.5 mg, 3 mg, or 6 mg; 6 mg or 12 mg based on weight),[53] and risperidone (1-3 mg or 4-6 mg)[54] were superior to placebo in improving the Positive and Negative Syndrome scale (PANSS) total score in adolescents aged 13-17 years.

In addition, another study found that risperidone (1.5-6 mg) was superior to a pseudoplacebo of risperidone (0.15-0.6 mg) in treating adolescent-onset schizophrenia.[55] One study found that 279 adolescent schizophrenic patients randomized over an 8-week trial to either low- or high-dose risperidone had significantly lower PANSS in the high-dose than in the low-dose group.[56] In one study, paliperidone did not separate from placebo (at doses of 1.5 mg, 6 mg, or 12 mg), but response rates were significantly superior in both the medium- and high-dose arms.[57] One trial looked at ziprasidone (40-80 mg/d target dose in patients weighing < 45 kg and 80-160 mg in the others) compared with placebo. However, this trial was discontinued when it was determined that the placebo response rate was higher in South America and Asia than in the United States and Europe.[58, 59]

In addition, several head-to-head trials have been conducted comparing the efficacy of several second-generation antipsychotics. Symptom response was not clinically significantly different between olanzapine, risperidone, and haloperidol[60] or between olanzapine and quetiapine[61] in youth with schizophrenia or psychosis. However, one small study demonstrated that clozapine was superior to haloperidol,[62] standard-dose olanzapine,[63] or high-dose (up to 30 mg) olanzapine.[64]

In the treatment of early-onset schizophrenia spectrum disorders (TEOSS) study, the efficacy of olanzapine and risperidone was compared with molindone (a first-generation antipsychotic medication) in the treatment of early-onset schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder in a double-blind multisite trial. No significant difference in response rates on the PANSS was found among treatment groups after 8 weeks of treatment with either olanzapine (2.5-20 mg/day), risperidone (0.5-6 mg/day), or molindone (10-140 mg/day, plus 1 mg/day of benztropine). However, olanzapine and risperidone were associated with greater weight gain, whereas molindone caused more reports of akathisia.[65]

Weight gain has been a problem with all currently available atypical antipsychotics, although weight gain may be less of a problem with ziprasidone. Extrapyramidal adverse effects are less common than those observed with the traditional antipsychotics, although they have been reported with both clozapine and risperidone. Sedation has occurred with all available atypical antipsychotics. Furthermore, studies show that children and adolescents appear to have a higher risk of EPS, akathisia, prolactin elevation, sedation, and metabolic effects of atypical antipsychotics than adults.[66]

Aripiprazole (Abilify)


Aripiprazole improves positive and negative schizophrenic symptoms and is indicated for treatment in adults with schizophrenia and acute manic and mixed episodes associated with bipolar disorder. This agent is hypothesized to work differently than other antipsychotics; it is thought to be a partial dopamine (D2) and serotonin (5HT1A) agonist that antagonizes serotonin (5HT2A). Aripiprazole is available as a tablet, oral disintegrating tablet, oral solution, or intramuscular injection. Injection is indicated for the treatment of agitation associated with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, manic or mixed.

Paliperidone (Invega)


Paliperidone is indicated in adults for the acute and maintenance treatment of schizophrenia. This agent is a major active metabolite of risperidone and the first oral agent that allows once-daily dosing. It is thought to mediate central receptor antagonism of D2 and 5HT2A, and it also elicits antagonist activity at adrenergic alpha1 and alpha2 receptors and histamine-1 receptors. Paliperidone has no affinity for cholinergic, muscarinic, or beta-adrenergic receptors. This agent is available as an extended-release drug delivery system via osmotic pressure.

Olanzapine (Zyprexa)


Olanzapine is indicated in adults for treatment of schizophrenia and acute mixed or manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. It may inhibit serotonin, muscarinic, and dopamine effects. The efficacy of this agent in schizophrenia is mediated through a combination of dopamine and 5HT2A antagonism, and it also antagonizes muscarinic M1-5, histamine H1, and adrenergic alpha-1 receptors. Olanzapine is available as a tablet, oral-disintegrating tablet, or intramuscular (IM) injection. IM injection is indicated for the treatment of agitation associated with schizophrenia and bipolar I mania.

Quetiapine (Seroquel)


Quetiapine is a newer antipsychotic drug used for long-term management of schizophrenia and is indicated in adults for the treatment of schizophrenia, depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder, and acute manic episodes associated with bipolar I disorder as either monotherapy or adjunct therapy to lithium or divalproex. This agent is available in tablet form and may act by antagonizing dopamine and serotonin effects. Quetiapine's improvements over earlier antipsychotics include fewer anticholinergic effects and less dystonia, parkinsonism, and tardive dyskinesia.

Risperidone (Risperdal, Risperdal Consta)


Description In children and adolescents, risperidone is indicated for the treatment of irritability associated with autistic disorder, including symptoms of aggression towards others, deliberate self-injuriousness, temper tantrums, and quickly changing moods. In adults, this agent is indicated for the short-term treatment of acute manic or mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder and schizophrenia.

Risperidone is an atypical antipsychotic with potent effects on serotonergic system by binding to dopamine D2-receptor with 20 times lower affinity than for 5HT2-receptor affinity. Open-label studies suggest its effectiveness in the treatment of childhood-onset schizophrenia. Risperidone is available as a tablet, oral-disintegrating tablet, oral solution, or long-acting intramuscular injection

Ziprasidone (Geodon)


Ziprasidone is indicated in adults for the treatment of acute manic or mixed episodes associated with bipolar disorder, with or without psychotic features, and schizophrenia; intramuscular (IM) injection is indicated for the treatment of acute agitation in patients with schizophrenia in whom treatment with ziprasidone is appropriate and who need IM antipsychotic medication for rapid control of the agitation.

This agent antagonizes dopamine D2, D3, 5HT2A, 5HT2C, 5HT1A, 5HT1D, is alpha1adrenergic, and has a moderate antagonistic effect for histamine H1. Ziprasidone moderately inhibits reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. This drug is available as a tablet and IM injection.

Clozapine (Clozaril, Fazaclo)


Description Clozapine is indicated in adults for management of severely ill patients with schizophrenia who fail to respond adequately to standard drug treatment and for reducing the risk of recurrent suicidal behavior in patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder who are judged to be at chronic risk for reexperiencing suicidal behavior based on history and recent clinical state.

Clozapine has been demonstrated to be: (1) effective for childhood-onset schizophrenia in double-blind studies as well as (2) superior to haloperidol in treatment of children with schizophrenia. However, this drug remains a second-line agent because of its major adverse effects. Start clozapine only after failure of medication trials using 2-3 antipsychotics from different classes. This agent is available as a tablet or oral-disintegrating tablet.



Class Summary

Benzodiazepines have been used in combination with antipsychotic agents early in the treatment of acute psychosis when sedation is needed.

Lorazepam (Ativan)


Lorazepam has been used acutely in agitated children with schizophrenia and may also be helpful in reducing akathisia. This agent is available for oral and parenteral use.


Antiparkinsonian Agents

Class Summary

Anticholinergic drugs have been used to prevent and treat acute dystonia, parkinsonism, and neuroleptic malignant syndrome. These agents have also been used for tardive dyskinesia.

Benztropine (Cogentin)


Benztropine can be started concurrently with antipsychotic drugs to prevent or control extrapyramidal reactions that occur as adverse effects of neuroleptic agents.



Class Summary

Antihistamines are possibly useful for the treatment of extrapyramidal adverse effects of antipsychotic agents (eg, dystonia, akathisia). These drugs have also been used for sedation and as mild hypnotics.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Anti-Hist, Diphenhist)


Diphenhydramine can be administered acutely for dystonic reactions or long term for drug-induced parkinsonism and akathisia.


Beta-adrenergic Blockers

Class Summary

Beta-adrenergic blockers have been used to treat akathisia, tremor, anxiety, and aggression.

Propranolol (Inderal)


Propranolol may be helpful in treating akathisia.


Dopamine Agonist

Class Summary

Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) is an adverse effect of antipsychotic drugs and is characterized by fever, muscle rigidity, and autonomic dysfunction. NMS has been treated with dopamine agonists (eg, bromocriptine, amantadine). Other drugs used include dantrolene sodium, benztropine, and diphenhydramine.

Bromocriptine (Parlodel)


Bromocriptine is a dopamine agonist that reduces the mortality rate of neuroleptic malignant syndrome.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Annemarie K Loth, MD Fellow in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Indiana University School of Medicine

Annemarie K Loth, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Psychiatric Association, Indiana Psychiatric Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


David W Dunn, MD Program Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology, Indiana University School of Medicine

David W Dunn, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Neurology, American Epilepsy Society, American Psychiatric Association, Child Neurology Society

Disclosure: Received research grant from: Eli Lilly<br/>Honorarium for grant review committee for Department of Defense.

Chief Editor

Caroly Pataki, MD Health Sciences Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Caroly Pataki, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, New York Academy of Sciences, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Angelo P Giardino, MD, PhD Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine; Medical Director, Texas Children's Health Plan, Inc

Angelo P Giardino, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Harris County Medical Society, Helfer Society, and International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect

Disclosure: Bayer Honoraria Review panel membership; Pfizer Grant/research funds Independent contractor; MedImmune Honoraria Review panel membership

Raj K Kalapatapu, MD Fellow, Addiction Psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

Raj K Kalapatapu, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Childhood schizophrenia. Early and late gray matter deficits in schizophrenia. Areas of gray matter loss, shown in red and yellow, spread from back-to-front (right to left) over 5 years in composite MRI scan data from 12 teens with childhood-onset schizophrenia, beginning at age 14 (left). Red and yellow denotes areas of greater loss. Source: Paul Thompson, MD, UCLA, Laboratory of Neuroimaging. NIMH media file.
Childhood schizophrenia. Rate of gray matter loss. Composite MRI scan data showing areas of gray matter loss over 5 years, comparing 12 normal teens (left) and 12 teens with childhood-onset schizophrenia. Red and yellow denotes areas of greater loss. Front of brain is at left. Source: Paul Thompson, MD, UCLA, Laboratory of Neuroimaging. NIMH media file.
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