Published On: August 31, 2022
Reviewed On: August 31, 2022
Updated On: July 17, 2023
Schizophrenia was once divided into several subtypes based on the symptoms that someone presented. One of these subtypes was undifferentiated schizophrenia, which was considered a subset of schizophrenia that had the features of multiple other subtypes. However, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) no longer classifies schizophrenia by type.
Even though the medical community (and the diagnostic tool they use) no longer uses the term undifferentiated schizophrenia, the condition still exists. Now people with these symptoms are diagnosed with schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
Keep reading to learn more about what undifferentiated schizophrenia means and what treatment options are available for those living with it.
According to the undifferentiated schizophrenia definition in past versions of the DSM, this schizophrenia subtype presents with symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions, as well as symptoms of other schizophrenia types, including paranoid schizophrenia, hebephrenic schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia, and residual schizophrenia. At one time, people who were diagnosed with undifferentiated schizophrenia met the criteria for a schizophrenia diagnosis but did not cleanly fit into any of the other subtypes.
The primary cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia are:
When a person hallucinates, they sense something that doesn’t exist. Hallucinations can impact all senses, but people with schizophrenia often experience auditory or visual hallucinations.
A delusion is a predominant symptom that is a persistent, false beliefs that isn’t based in evidence or reality. Someone with a delusion may believe that they’re being persecuted or that they have a romantic relationship with a person they’ve never met.
Schizophrenia can make it difficult to think clearly, leading someone to speak in a way that doesn’t make sense. People with disorganized thinking or disorganized speech might give unrelated answers to questions or jumble their words as they speak.
People with schizophrenia may also show abnormal behavior, such as extreme, out-of-place emotional reactions or behaviors with no purpose. In some cases, a person may present as catatonic.
Negative symptoms interfere with the ability to complete day-to-day tasks, such as personal hygiene or social interactions. Negative symptoms can cause one to struggle with a lack of motivation or have limited interest in the activities they usually enjoy.
Not everyone with schizophrenia disorders experiences all of these symptoms, but a person must have at least 2 of the above 5 symptoms to be diagnosed with the condition. Undifferentiated schizophrenia symptoms may shift over time, causing people to be impacted by schizophrenia in different ways.
“Individuals with undifferentiated schizophrenia report feeling detached and unemotional, low energy and motivation for anything, and auditory hallucinations. The medical community no longer recognizes this term, so individuals with this diagnosis have obtained it from mental health professionals.”
Other physical and mental health conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. When healthcare providers evaluate someone for this condition, it’s standard to run tests to help rule out other potential causes for symptoms. This process may include a physical examination, lab tests, and imaging tests.
Healthcare providers will also review family history and conduct an evaluation that’ll provide them with more information about an individual’s health and well-being. People suspected of having schizophrenia may also be asked to complete cognitive tests to determine if any cognitive impairment is being experienced. Once other causes and conditions are ruled out, most often someone will then undergo a diagnostic assessment.
Research tells us that schizophrenia is a chronic brain or mental disorder. Imaging tests show that people with schizophrenia have reduced brain matter in their frontal and temporal lobes, the areas that impact thinking and judgment. Studies also show that people with schizophrenia can lose brain matter over time, suggesting it may be a progressive brain disease. While we can see how schizophrenia changes the brain, experts still don’t know exactly why this occurs.
People with a family history of schizophrenia are significantly more likely to develop the condition, which suggests it may have a genetic component.
There’s also a link between schizophrenia and substance abuse. Nearly 50% of people with schizophrenia also meet the diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder. In addition, drug use during adolescence might trigger psychotic symptoms in people who are at risk.
It’s likely that undifferentiated schizophrenia is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While a person could be vulnerable to schizophrenia because of their conditions, they may only go on to develop the condition if they’re exposed to certain environmental triggers.
“The wrong combination of genetic factors and environmental stimuli are said to cause undifferentiated schizophrenia. The combination of exactly what factors lead to undifferentiated schizophrenia seem to remain unknown.”
Schizophrenia can’t be cured, but it’s possible to manage undifferentiated schizophrenia symptoms with the proper treatment. While schizophrenia treatment can vary based on the severity and types of symptoms experienced, schizophrenia disorders are most often treated through a combination of antipsychotic medications and psychotherapy.
Antipsychotic medication is used to treat psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. There are 2 different types of antipsychotics that may be used: typical antipsychotics, which block dopamine receptors, and atypical psychotics, which block serotonin receptors. Atypical psychotics are generally more likely to be prescribed because side effects like extrapyramidal symptoms and tardive dyskinesia occur less frequently with atypical agents.
Depending on someone’s symptoms, they may also be prescribed antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, or sleeping medications. The goal of medication is to improve symptoms with minimal negative side effects. Sometimes additional medication might be prescribed to counteract the side effects of antipsychotics.
Once symptoms are being managed with medication, someone can start other forms of psychological treatment like psychotherapy. Also referred to as talk therapy, psychotherapy can give people insight into their thoughts and behaviors and help them make positive changes.
While there are many forms of psychotherapy that can treat schizophrenia, studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective. CBT can provide people with tools and coping mechanisms that they can use to identify and change unhealthy thought patterns stemming from a schizophrenia diagnosis. This form of therapy can also help people learn to build social skills.
A significant number of people with schizophrenia also have substance use disorder. They may have struggled with it before being diagnosed or started using while struggling with their symptoms. In fact, research shows up to 50% of people who have schizophrenia may also have a drug or alcohol dependence. Individuals who struggle with substance abuse may be encouraged to seek substance use treatment. This form of treatment is designed to help stop substance abuse and identify the factors that cause the behavior or psychotic episode.
Substance abuse can increase the severity of schizophrenia symptoms and is linked to poorer therapy outcomes, which is why treatment is so essential. Some substance abuse programs are specifically designed for people who have schizophrenia.
Even though schizophrenia is no longer divided by subtypes, the undifferentiated schizophrenia definition remains the same. Some people with schizophrenia may experience a range of symptoms that shift over time. Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong condition, which is why it’s so vital for people with cognitive symptoms to receive the care and treatment they need.
If you’re looking for help defining, diagnosing, or treating someone with undifferentiated schizophrenia, you might want to consider Talkspace as a solution. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that offers convenient therapy and support from real, licensed mental health experts. Talkspace can help you diagnose conditions like schizophrenia and develop effective strategies for treatment, so you can heal and learn to live a more productive, rewarding life.
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Meaghan Rice is a mental health consultant specializing in professionals who are looking to close the gap between where they are and where they envision themselves being. With a decade of experience in the mental health field, working in a variety of different capacities, Dr. Rice has found her niche amidst the therapist, consultant, and trainer roles.