Schizophreniform disorder is a short-term type of schizophrenia, a serious mental illness that distorts the way a person thinks, acts, expresses emotions, perceives reality, and relates to others. Like schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder is a type of "psychosis" in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. Although schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, schizophreniform disorder involves symptoms that are present for less than six months. When symptoms persist longer than six months, the diagnosis is typically changed to schizophrenia.
What Are the Symptoms of Schizophreniform Disorder?
Symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are similar to those of schizophrenia and may include:
Delusions (false beliefs that are not based in reality and that the person refuses to give up, even when presented with factual information).
Hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not really there).
Disorganized speech, such as not making sense, using nonsense words and/or 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, and withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities.
What Causes Schizophreniform Disorder?
Although the exact cause of schizophreniform disorder is not known, researchers believe it originates in genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors.
Genetics (heredity): A tendency to develop schizophreniform disorder may be passed on from parents to their children.
Brain chemistry: People with schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder may have an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are substances that help nerve cells in the brain send messages to each other. An imbalance of these chemicals can interfere with the transmission of messages, leading to symptoms.
Environmental factors: Evidence suggests that certain environmental factors, such as poor social interactions or a highly stressful event, may trigger schizophreniform disorder in people who have inherited a tendency to develop the illness.
How Common Is Schizophreniform Disorder?
About one person in 1,000 develops schizophreniform disorder during his or her lifetime. The disorder occurs equally in men and women, although it often strikes men at a younger age, between the ages of 18 and 24. In women, it most often occurs between the ages of 24 and 35.
How Is Schizophreniform Disorder Diagnosed?
If symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are present, the doctor will perform a complete medical history and physical exam. While there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose schizophreniform disorder, the doctor may use various tests -- such as brain imaging (e.g., MRI scans) or blood tests -- to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.
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. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a psychotic disorder. A diagnosis of schizophreniform disorder is made if a person has characteristic symptoms that last less than six months.