Current definitions of the prodromal (or at-risk mental state) phase of schizophrenia include attenuated and/or transient psychotic symptoms as well as a combination of different risk indicators and a recent significant deterioration in global functioning. Data accumulated to date suggest rates of conversion to frank psychosis within two years in 25 to 40% of cases supporting the validity of these criteria. However, at this late phase of illness, functional deterioration is often already pronounced, highlighting the need for earlier identification. Moreover, negative symptoms and social impairments, cognitive deficits, other non-psychotic psychopathology and/or functional decline and non-specific biological indicators, often can be detected well before the at-risk mental state as currently defined; indicating that a broad characterization of an earlier stage may be possible. Identifying specific criteria to define this group of individuals, starting from the framework of familial high-risk, can help define a broader group of people, including earlier at-risk mental states, for future research. The hope is that this research will help facilitate intervention at earlier stages that may in turn minimize functional deterioration, and delay, attenuate or even prevent transition to psychosis. The disadvantages as well as the potential benefits of this approach are discussed.
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