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Schizophrenia Prognosis and Life Expectancy

Medically reviewed by Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D.
Posted on April 23, 2024

  • The prognosis of schizophrenia depends on how severe your symptoms are, whether you’re on treatment, your lifestyle choices, and several other factors.
  • People with schizophrenia may have a reduced average life expectancy.
  • Changing certain lifestyle habits may improve your outlook and life expectancy with schizophrenia.

If you or a loved one has schizophrenia, you may have wondered about your outlook or whether the disease affects your life expectancy. While there’s no cure for schizophrenia, there are various treatments and mental health interventions. Effective treatment can help improve your outcomes while living with the condition.

The prognosis, or outlook, for people with schizophrenia varies depending on several factors. These include how severe your symptoms are, your age when you first experienced symptoms, and how easy it is for you to get treatment. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people with schizophrenia can live full and productive lives.

In terms of how long people with schizophrenia live, schizophrenia itself isn’t a common cause of death. However, having schizophrenia may increase your risk of dying from other causes.

Studies suggest that people with schizophrenia may have a reduced life expectancy of up to 10 to 25 years as compared to the general population — people who don’t have schizophrenia. Recent studies show how you may be able to improve your life expectancy and quality of life while living with schizophrenia.

Latest Research on Prognosis and Life Expectancy for People Living With Schizophrenia

A recent study looked at the outcomes of people living with schizophrenia after 20 years or more. The study found that, for nearly 60 percent of people with schizophrenia, their mental health had improved over 20 years.

Quitting smoking may be a key factor in helping people with schizophrenia live longer.

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The same study found that about 24 percent of people said that they felt like they had recovered from the condition. Recovery or remission of schizophrenia has various definitions. The Remission in Schizophrenia Working Group (RSWG) defined it as a decrease in schizophrenia symptoms to the point where they no longer interfere with your daily behaviors and life. These study results also showed that recovery or remission with schizophrenia is possible.

Another study found potential ways to help increase the life expectancy of people with schizophrenia. Study results found that changing certain lifestyle and health care factors could help increase life expectancy for people with schizophrenia by up to seven years. These included:

  • Lifestyle factors — Smoking, exercise, and substance abuse
  • Health care factors — Improving health care access
  • Social factors — Having strong social connections

Quitting smoking, in particular, was identified as a key factor in helping people with schizophrenia live longer. Smoking accounted for 46 percent of all deaths in people with schizophrenia in this study. Stopping smoking alone could potentially improve life expectancy by up to two years.

Factors That Affect Outcomes and Life Expectancy for People Living With Schizophrenia

People living with schizophrenia should start antipsychotic treatment as soon as possible. A study from the journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics shows that most brain changes linked to the illness occur within five years after the first symptoms appear (first episode).

Doctors also recommend continuing antipsychotic medication for at least 12 months after the first symptoms disappear. The risk of relapse, or symptoms returning, in schizophrenia, is higher for people who don’t continue taking antipsychotic medication.

Studies have found that people with schizophrenia have a higher risk of accidental death and suicide.

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Studies show a reduced life expectancy for people living with schizophrenia compared to the general population. Reasons for reduced life expectancy may include lifestyle factors, inadequate health care, and risk of accidental death or suicide.

Lifestyle Factors

Some lifestyle factors may contribute to worse outcomes for people with schizophrenia. These include:

  • An unhealthy diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excessive smoking and substance use

These lifestyle factors can harm your overall health and cause other medical conditions, or comorbidities, such as heart, lung, liver, and metabolic disease, and diabetes.

Smoking, in particular, is a significant cause of death in people living with schizophrenia compared to the general population. An article in the journal JAMA Psychiatry cited that about two-thirds of adults with schizophrenia smoke, and they tend to smoke more heavily than people in the general population who smoke.

Professional guidelines recommend screening for tobacco use and offering programs to help people with schizophrenia to stop smoking. Unfortunately, rates of screening and smoking cessation intervention remain low.

Substance use has been shown to contribute to worse outcomes and reduced life span in people living with schizophrenia. Additional lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise may make heart disease and diabetes worse in people living with schizophrenia.

Inadequate Health Care

Studies from the Journal of Psychopharmacology have found that people living with schizophrenia or other severe mental disorders may not receive adequate health care. Sometimes, people don’t get the health care they need because it’s too expensive or they’re not taking an active role in their health care.

Risk of Accidental Death

People living with schizophrenia have a higher risk of accidental death and suicide compared to the general population. Accidents cause more than twice as many deaths as suicide in people with schizophrenia, and many of the accidental deaths are from poisoning and substance abuse. This finding highlights the critical importance of getting help for substance use and abuse.

Adults with schizophrenia also are at increased risk of being in situations where they might get hurt by law enforcement. This is why it’s important for law enforcement to learn more about mental health.

This kind of training can help make these encounters safer and ensure they’re handled with understanding.

People with schizophrenia have higher rates of suicide compared to the general population. The risk of suicide appears to be higher among men, white individuals, and younger adults. The risk of suicide is also higher in people who aren’t on antipsychotic medication as compared to those who are. This finding highlights the importance of starting antipsychotic medication early and taking it regularly.

Ways To Improve Your Prognosis and Life Expectancy With Schizophrenia

There are some factors within your control when it comes to your outlook with schizophrenia:

  • Make mental health a priority — Focus on taking care of your mind as well as your body.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle — Eat well, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep.
  • Be engaged in your health care — Stay active in managing your health by understanding and following your treatment plans.
  • Talk to your doctor — Keep open communication with your health care provider about any concerns or changes in your health.

Make Mental Health a Priority

You can lead a full and productive life with schizophrenia. While the average life expectancy for those living with schizophrenia may be reduced, remember that each person is unique, and the population average may not apply.

Experts recommend continuing antipsychotic medication for at least 12 months after your initial symptoms disappear.

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Starting antipsychotic medication early and taking it regularly is key to improving your outcomes and increasing your life expectancy with schizophrenia. You may need to change medications before you find one that works well for you. Being honest with your doctor about your symptoms and how your medications are affecting you is key.

In addition to antipsychotic drugs, there are many psychosocial treatments that may be helpful and should be selected based on what you need. Again, talking openly and honestly with your health care provider is key, both to get the most out of these treatments and to address any risk of suicide quickly if needed.

Live a Healthy Lifestyle

Quitting smoking and addressing substance abuse issues can significantly improve anyone’s quality of life, not just for those with schizophrenia. Additionally, if you stop smoking, it can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer.

Seeking help for substance abuse can help reduce your risk of accidental death and suicide. A healthy diet with moderate exercise and avoidance of substances can reduce your risk of heart and liver disease and can improve your overall health.

Be Engaged in Your Health Care

People with schizophrenia need to get regular health care check-ups. Studies show that people with schizophrenia may not receive the same level of medical care as those who do not have a severe mental illness. It’s up to you and your loved ones to be proactive to make sure you get the right screenings and treatments you need.

Medications for schizophrenia, like antipsychotics, can cause side effects that might affect your weight and blood sugar, or cause other physical changes. That’s why regular checkups are key to staying healthy overall. Your doctor can monitor these changes and adjust your medications if needed.

Talk to Your Doctor About Your Schizophrenia

If you or a loved one is living with schizophrenia, speak with a health care provider. Your doctor can answer the questions about prognosis and life expectancy that you or your loved one may have. They can also recommend a treatment plan and help you understand how to live better with schizophrenia.

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MyDepressionTeam is the social network for people with depression, or related mental health conditions, and their loved ones. On MyDepressionTeam, more than 146,000 members come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with depression or schizophrenia.

What steps are you taking to live a healthy lifestyle and improve your quality of life with schizophrenia? Share your experience, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on April 23, 2024
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    Ifeanyi Nwaka, M.D. earned his medical degree from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine. Learn more about him here.
    Michelle Collins, Ph.D. is a freelance science writer with over 25 years of experience in pharmaceutical research and development. Learn more about her here.

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