What is schizophreniform disorder?

Schizophreniform disorder is a short-term type of schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder that distorts the way a person:

  • Thinks
  • Acts
  • Expresses emotions
  • Perceives reality
  • Relates to others

Like schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder is a type of mental illness—called a “psychosis”—in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. Although schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, schizophreniform disorder lasts for between one and six months.

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 in women between the ages of 18 and 24. However, it often strikes men at a younger age. In women, it most often occurs between the ages of 24 and 35.

What are the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder?

Symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are similar to those of schizophrenia and might include the following:

  • 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
    • Skipping from one topic to another
  • Odd or strange behavior such as:
    • Pacing
    • Walking in circles
    • Writing constantly
  • Negative symptoms, including:
    • Lack of energy
    • Poor hygiene and grooming habits
    • Loss of interest or pleasure in life
    • Withdrawal from family, friends, and social activities

What causes schizophreniform disorder?

Although the exact cause of schizophreniform disorder is not known, researchers believe that genetic, biochemical, and environmental factors are involved.

  • Genetics (heredity): A tendency to develop schizophreniform disorder might be passed on from parents to their children. This increases the risk of developing the disorder compared to the general population. However, this does not guarantee that the disorder will be passed on
  • Brain chemistry: People with schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder might 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 in these chemicals can interfere with the transmission of messages, leading to symptoms
  • 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

What are the complications of schizophreniform disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about two-thirds of people with schizophreniform disorder develop schizophrenia. In some cases, people with schizophreniform disorder also have symptoms of depression, which increases the risk of suicide.

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