Background: Improvements are greatest in the earlier weeks of antipsychotic treatment of patients with non-resistant schizophrenia. Aims: To address the early time-line for improvement with antipsychotics in treatment-resistant schizophrenia. Method: Randomised double-blind trials of antipsychotic medication in adult patients with treatment-resistant schizophrenia were investigated (last search June 2010). A series of metaregression analyses were carried out to examine the effect of time on the average item scores in the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) or Brief Psychiatric Rating Scale (BPRS) at three or more distinct time points within the first 6 weeks of treatment. Results: Study duration varied from 4 weeks to 1 year and the definitions of treatment resistance as well as of treatment response were not necessarily consistent across 19 identified studies, resulting in highly variable rates of response (0-76%). The mean standardised baseline item score in the PANSS or BPRS was 3.4 (s.e. = 0.06) in the five studies included in the meta-regression analysis, with the average baseline Clinical Global Impression - Severity score being 5.2 (marked illness). For the pooled population treated with a range of antipsychotics (n = 1019), significant reductions in the mean item scores occurred during the first 4 weeks; improvements observed in later weeks were smaller and non-significant. In contrast, weekly improvement with clozapine was significant throughout (n = 356). Conclusions: Our findings provide preliminary evidence that the majority of improvement with antipsychotics may occur relatively early. More consistent improvements with clozapine may be associated with a gradual titration. To further elucidate response patterns, future studies are needed to provide data over regular intervals during earlier stages of treatment.
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