Schizophreniform disorder is a type of psychotic illness with symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, but lasting for less than 6 months. Like schizophrenia, a schizophreniform disorder is a type of “psychosis” in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. It also affects how people think, act, express emotions, and relate to others. If symptoms last longer than 6 months, doctors consider the person to have schizophrenia rather than a schizophreniform disorder.
Like schizophrenia, symptoms may include:
- Delusions (false beliefs that the person refuses to give up, even after they get the facts)
- Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t real)
- Disorganized speech, such as not making sense, using nonsense words, and skipping from one topic to another
- Odd or strange behaviour, 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
Doctors don’t know what causes a schizophreniform disorder. A mix of factors may be involved, including:
- Genetics: A tendency to develop schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder may pass from parents to their children.
- Brain structure and function: People with schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder may have a disturbance in brain circuits that manage thinking and perception.
- Environment: Poor relationships or very stressful events may trigger a schizophreniform disorder in people who have inherited a tendency to develop the illness.
How Common Is It?
About one person in 1,000 develops schizophreniform disorder during his or her lifetime. The disorder happens equally in men and women, although it often strikes men at a younger age, between ages 18 and 24. In women, it most often happens between ages 24 and 35.
If someone has symptoms, a doctor may use various tests — such as brain imaging (like MRI scans) or blood tests — to rule out a non-psychiatric medical problem. If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, he or she may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They use specially designed interview and assessment tools to see if someone has a psychotic disorder. For a diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder, the symptoms can only have lasted for less than 6 months.
Medication and psychotherapy (a type of counselling) are both used. People with severe symptoms or who are at risk of hurting themselves or others may need to be hospitalized to get their condition under control.
Medication: Antipsychotic drugs are the main medications that doctors use to treat the psychotic symptoms of a schizophreniform disorder, such as delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking.
Psychotherapy: The goal is to help the person recognise and learn about the illness and its treatment, set goals, and manage everyday problems related to the condition. It can also help the person handle the feelings of distress linked to the symptoms. Family therapy can help families deal more effectively with a loved one who has a schizophreniform disorder.
What to Expect
People with a schizophreniform disorder recover within 6 months. If the symptoms don’t improve, the person likely has schizophrenia, which is a lifelong illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about two-thirds of people with a schizophreniform disorder go on to develop schizophrenia.
Can A Schizophreniform Disorder Be Prevented?
There is no way to prevent schizophreniform disorder. But early diagnosis and treatment are very important, because they can help to limit damage to the person’s life, family, and other relationships.
Credit: Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD for WebMD, 27 February 2018.