What Is Schizophreniform Disorder?

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Schizophreniform disorder, like schizophrenia, is a psychotic disorder that affects how you act, think, relate to others, express emotions, and perceive reality. Unlike schizophrenia, it only lasts one to six months.

About one-third of individuals with an initial diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder recover within the six-month period and schizophreniform disorder is their final diagnosis. Most of the remaining two-thirds of individuals will eventually receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.

Psychology therapy session. Female patient talking to mental health professional.

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What Is Schizophreniform Disorder?

Schizophreniform disorder is a serious, but time-limited psychotic disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to:

  • Think clearly
  • Manage emotions
  • Make decisions
  • Relate to others

While the onset of schizophrenia is often gradual over a number of months or years, the onset of schizophreniform disorder can be relatively rapid.

The disorder is relatively rare in the United States and developed countries, with about one in 1,000 people developing the condition in their lifetime. It occurs equally in men and women. It generally peaks in men between the ages of 18 and 24, and in women, it most often occurs between the ages of 24 and 35.

Symptoms

The characteristic symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are identical to those of schizophrenia, but schizophreniform disorder is distinguished by its duration. An episode of the disorder lasts at least one month but less than six months.

Symptoms of schizophreniform disorder might include the following:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech, such as not making sense, using nonsense words, and skipping from one topic to another
  • Odd or strange behavior, such as pacing, walking in circles, or writing constantly
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor hygiene and grooming habits
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities

Diagnosis

In some cases, the diagnosis is provisional because it is unclear whether the individual will recover from the disturbance within the six-month period.

If the disturbance persists beyond six months, the diagnosis may be changed to schizophrenia.

The diagnosis of schizophreniform disorders requires two (or more) of the following, each present for a significant portion of time during a one-month period (with one being either 1, 2, or 3):

  1. Delusions
  2. Hallucinations
  3. Disorganized speech (communication is incoherent or conversation frequently derailed)
  4. Disorganized or catatonic behavior
  5. Diminished range of emotional expression (the person appears emotionally withdrawn)

While impairment in social, occupational, or academic functioning is required for the diagnosis of schizophrenia, in schizophreniform disorder an individual's level of functioning may or may not be affected.

Ruling Out Other Illnesses

Although there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose schizophreniform disorder, your health care provider might use various diagnostic tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of your symptoms. This may include blood tests or imaging studies of the brain.

If your health care provider finds no physical reason for the symptoms, they might refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist, who will interview you and may use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate you for a psychotic disorder. They may also speak to other people in your life who know you.

The health care provider or therapist bases their diagnosis on your symptoms and observation of your symptoms and behavior.

Causes

Although the exact cause of schizophreniform disorder is not known, researchers believe that genetic and environmental factors may be involved in the development of disorders relating to schizophrenia.

  • Genetics: There is a strong genetic component to schizophrenia and related conditions. Your likelihood of developing schizophrenia is more than six times higher if you have a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, with the disorder. But many people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia disorder don’t have any affected family members.
  • Environmental factors: Evidence suggests that certain factors in the environment might trigger schizophreniform disorder in people who have inherited a tendency to develop the disorder. These factors can be poor social interactions or a highly stressful event. Recent research also suggests a relationship between autoimmune disorders and the development of psychosis in some individuals.
  • Substance use: Some research has found that cannabis is involved in approximately 50% of psychosis, schizophrenia, and schizophreniform psychosis cases. Cannabis is a known risk factor for schizophrenia, although the exact neurobiological process through which the effects on psychosis occur is not well understood. 

Prevention

There is no known way to prevent or reduce your risk of schizophreniform disorder. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help decrease the disruption to your life, family and friendships.

Treatment

Schizophreniform disorder is usually treated with an individually tailored combination of talking therapy and medication to protect and stabilize you and relieve your symptoms. People with severe symptoms or who are at risk of hurting themselves might need to be in the hospital until their condition is stabilized.

Medication

The primary medications used to treat the psychotic symptoms of schizophreniform disorder—such as delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking—are called antipsychotics. Medications used in the treatment of schizophreniform disorder include:

First-generation "typical' antipsychotics such as:

Second-generation "atypical" antipsychotics such as:

Psychotherapy

One of the most researched models of therapy used in the treatment of schizophrenia-related disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. This model of psychotherapy addresses the connection between thoughts and behaviors, helping people to learn more about how negative patterns of thought about themselves and the world influence their feelings and behavior.

Coping

Many people with schizophreniform disorder make a recovery, although some will experience the occasional return of symptoms (relapses). Support and treatment can help you to manage your condition and the impact it has on your life. Here are some methods that may help with schizophreniform disorder symptoms:

  • Listen to your body. Learning to recognize the signs that you're becoming unwell can help you manage your illness. Signs can include lack of energy, feeling anxious or stressed, or withdrawing from loved ones.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Recreational drugs may make your schizophreniform disorder symptoms worse, particularly those which alter your reality (hallucinogens) as well as those containing THC. Drugs and alcohol can also react badly with antipsychotic medicines.
  • Find peer support. Virtual or in-person support groups for people with schizophrenia-related disorders can help them reach out to others facing similar challenges. Support groups may also help family and friends cope.

Seek Help

If you or a loved one are struggling with schizophreniform disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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