Medical Illness in Patients With Schizophrenia

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Research into the relationship between physical illness and schizophrenia has revealed that patients with schizophrenia may be at decreased risk for certain disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and allergies, but at increased risk for others, including substance abuse and polydipsia. Although such knowledge may ultimately help determine the underlying causes of schizophrenia, the principal concern of practicing clinicians should be to diagnose and treat medical comorbidity in individual patients. Nearly 50% of patients with schizophrenia have a comorbid medical condition, but many of these illnesses are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. A fragmented health care system, lack of access to care, patient inability to clearly appreciate or describe a medical problem, and patient reluctance to discuss such problems all contribute to the lack of attention to medical problems in patients with schizophrenia. Psychiatrists and primary care practitioners who treat patients with schizophrenia should make an effort to uncover medical illnesses by using a structured interview or routine physical examination whenever a patient is seen for care.

J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60(suppl 21):10-15