Schizophreniform disorder is a schizophrenia-like illness that lasts 6 months or less. It can cause symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions, hallucinations, and chaotic behavior.

Schizophreniform disorder is similar to brief psychotic disorder. However, whereas a person with brief psychotic disorder may have symptoms for a few days or weeks, the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are ongoing.

The condition usually lasts 1–6 months. Technically, schizophreniform disorder is a placeholder diagnosis for schizophrenia. A doctor will rule out schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions before diagnosing schizophreniform disorder. If the symptoms do not resolve, they will diagnose schizophrenia.

Keep reading to learn about what schizophreniform disorder is, its symptoms and causes, how it is different than schizophrenia, and more.

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Schizophreniform disorder is a condition that causes schizophrenia symptoms lasting 1–6 months.

Schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition. If the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder persist for longer than 6 months, a person may have schizophrenia.

People with schizophreniform disorder have psychosis. This causes a person to believe things contrary to reality and to have sensory experiences that others do not share. For example, they might see or hear things that are not really there. A person may also experience other mental health symptoms, such as depression, low motivation, or paranoia.

A person will only meet the criteria for a diagnosis if neither drugs nor alcohol is responsible for the symptoms.

As the symptoms of schizophreniform disorder are identical to those of schizophrenia, estimates of prevalence are rare.

An older estimate suggests a prevalence of between 0.4% and 1%. More recently, a 2017 study looked at a representative sample of the Chinese population and found very low rates of schizophreniform disorder. Of the 5,719 participants aged 16–75 years, 130 individuals had a psychotic disorder, but only one had schizophreniform disorder.

In certain populations, both schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder are more common.

A 2019 meta-analysis of 31 studies, which involved a total of 51,925 people without housing, reported a schizophrenia prevalence of 10.29% and a schizophreniform disorder prevalence of 2.48%. This finding indicates that homeless individuals may be more likely than the general population to have mental health conditions such as schizophreniform disorder.

The symptoms of schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder are identical. The only difference is the duration of the symptoms.

Researchers have actually identified three conditions that produce the same symptoms. A doctor will base their diagnosis on how long the symptoms last:

  • Brief psychotic episode: The symptoms last for less than 1 month.
  • Schizophreniform disorder: A person will experience symptoms for 1–6 months.
  • Schizophrenia: After 6 months, the symptoms will continue.

The main symptom of schizophreniform disorder is psychosis, which is when a person becomes disconnected from reality. The symptoms of psychosis include:

  • false beliefs called delusions
  • hallucinations, or seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching things that are not there
  • chaotic or unusual thinking

These symptoms may cause paranoia or anxiety, or they might change a person’s behavior. For example, a person who believes that their family is conspiring to harm them may become angry and act in ways that could harm or end their relationships with family members.

A person with schizophreniform disorder may have other symptoms, such as:

  • unusual behavior
  • low motivation
  • changes in speech, such as talking very quickly
  • low motivation
  • depression-like symptoms

The causes of both schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder are multifactorial. This means that many different factors contribute to a person’s risk of developing the condition. For example, a person with a genetic predisposition to schizophreniform disorder may develop the disorder following a traumatic event.

Doctors do not fully understand what causes these disorders. It is also unclear why some people with no risk factors develop psychosis while others with multiple risk factors do not.

The risk factors for schizophreniform disorder and schizophrenia are similar. They include:

  • Environmental factors: Certain environmental factors, such as low birth weight, being born during the winter, preeclampsia in the mother during pregnancy, and living in cities, are associated with a higher risk.
  • Genetics: Certain genetic factors increase the risk of schizophrenia-like disorders. If both parents have schizophrenia, a child has a 40% chance of developing it. In identical twins, if one twin has schizophrenia, the other twin has a 46% chance of developing it.
  • Childhood trauma: Exposure to stress and trauma in childhood increases the risk of most mental health conditions.
  • Hormonal and chemical changes: A 2021 case report explains the case of a person who developed schizophreniform disorder after menopause. Their symptoms improved with hormone replacement therapy, indicating that hormones may influence the disease. Researchers have not fully investigated this theory.
  • Infections: Exposure to certain viruses early in an infant’s development, particularly in the uterus, may increase the risk of schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder symptoms. A 2021 paper describes anecdotal evidence supporting an increase in psychotic symptoms after a severe viral infection.

Doctors diagnose both schizophrenia and schizophreniform disorder based on a person’s symptoms.

There is no medical test that they can use to diagnose schizophreniform disorder. However, they may use various surveys and scales to assess a person’s symptoms, determine their severity, and make treatment recommendations.

In some cases, a doctor might recommend additional testing to rule out other potential causes. For example, someone who recently hit their head might need imaging scans to determine whether a brain injury could explain their symptoms.

Learn more about how doctors diagnose schizophrenia.

Doctors treat schizophreniform disorder and schizophrenia using the same methods.

The main treatment is an antipsychotic medication. Usually, a doctor will advise a person to take their medication for 12 months after the symptoms subside. They can help a person wean off the medication if appropriate.

Additionally, a doctor might recommend psychotherapy. This can also help people develop coping strategies, manage their relationships and work, and better understand their illness.

Some people also benefit from joining support groups.

Learn more about schizophrenia support groups.

Schizophreniform disorder causes the same symptoms as schizophrenia but for a shorter duration. The symptoms usually last for 1–6 months.

In some people, schizophreniform disorder progresses to schizophrenia, another psychotic disorder, or another mental health condition. In others, the symptoms subside.

Doctors diagnose and treat the condition the same as they do schizophrenia. Some people benefit from joining support groups for individuals with schizophrenia or schizophreniform disorder.