Schizoaffective Disorder

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Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a psychotic disorder with features of a mood disorder. If you experience classic symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations and delusions, and experience episodes of mania or depression, you may suffer from schizoaffective disorder. 

What is schizoaffective disorder? 

Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental health disorder that affects less than a million estimated adults in the United States. There are two main categories of schizoaffective disorder into which patients fall:

  • Depressive schizoaffective disorder
  • Bipolar schizoaffective disorder

What is bipolar schizoaffective disorder?

In addition to psychotic symptoms, individuals with bipolar schizoaffective disorder also experience manic episodes and sometimes depressive episodes. Manic episodes can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks and are characterized by elevated mood, intense energy, impulsive thoughts, and other extreme behaviors.

What is depressive schizoaffective disorder?

Individuals with depressive schizoaffective disorder only experience depressive episodes in addition to psychotic symptoms. Depressive episodes typically last several months to a year and are characterized by:

  • Low mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Lack of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

How is schizoaffective disorder different from schizophrenia?

It is often difficult to tell the difference between schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia due to the common overlap of symptoms. The main difference is that with schizoaffective disorder, mood disorder is prominent.

Causes

What causes schizoaffective disorder?

Although the direct cause of schizoaffective disorder has not yet been determined, many researchers speculate that the disorder is caused by a combination of biological differences and genetic factors. Many scientists believe schizoaffective disorder is a variant of schizophrenia or several other disorders.

  • Brain chemistry and structure: Studies of individuals with schizophrenia have demonstrated subtle differences in their brain structure. If you have schizophrenia and mood disorders, you might lack dopamine and have problems with neural circuits in the brain that manage thinking and mood. 
  • Genetics: No single gene is responsible for the development of schizoaffective disorder, but evidence shows that you may inherit a tendency to get features linked to the disease from your parents.

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Symptoms

What are the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder?

The overall symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can be divided into four main categories: 

  • Positive symptoms
  • Negative symptoms
  • Mania 
  • Depression symptoms

What are the positive symptoms of schizoaffective disorder?

Positive symptoms are characterized by altered perceptions and abnormal thinking. These symptoms include:

  • Disorganized thoughts and speech: Common indicators include repeating phrases or diverting off-topic during the middle of a sentence. This is a direct result of lack of concentration typical with schizoaffective disorder.
  • Hallucinations: These are sensations of seeing or hearing realistic things that don’t exist. Many individuals with paranoid schizophrenia often experience hallucinations that tend to worsen when isolated from others.
  • Delusions: These are falsely held beliefs that are generally disregarded or proven wrong by others. The person affected may believe that their thoughts or actions are controlled by an outside source, such as the government, or are being persecuted. 

What are the negative symptoms of schizoaffective disorder?

Negative symptoms refer to behaviors or functions that are not present in those affected by schizoaffective disorder. These symptoms include:

  • Social withdrawal: Decreased interest or motivation for interacting with others or forming relationships.
  • Lack of pleasure: A reduced ability to experience pleasant emotions.
  • Flattening: A decrease in emotional expression, including speaking in a monotone voice and showing apathetic facial expressions.

What are the symptoms of mania?

It consists of excessive happiness, restlessness, rapid speech, impulsive behavior, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, distraction, self-confidence, and drug abuse.

What are the symptoms of depression?

It consist of sadness, feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest in things they once liked, uncontrollable crying, trouble making decisions, appetite changes, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Diagnosis

When do people develop schizoaffective disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder most commonly develops in individuals from their late teens to early adulthood and is rare in children. Women have proven to be more likely to develop schizoaffective disorder. 

How is schizoaffective disorder diagnosed?

It’s often difficult to diagnose schizoaffective disorder because those affected by the illness are often unaware that they are suffering from it. Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed based on a psychiatric evaluation of one’s history and symptoms in order to determine whether or not they may be the result of another cause. Talking to family or close friends may also help distinguish schizoaffective disorder from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other psychiatric disorders involving changes in behavior, thinking, and mood.

How do I get tested for schizoaffective disorder?

If you or someone you know has one or more symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, the first step to being diagnosed is to visit a medical professional or psychiatrist. Tell your doctor what symptoms you have noticed, and ask them for guidance and next steps. After evaluating your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may order several neuroimaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT), to rule out other conditions that might be mistaken with schizoaffective disorder.

Treatment

How to treat schizoaffective disorder?

There are numerous resources to help manage symptoms of schizophrenia. Treatment for schizophrenia involves medication and psychosocial therapy.

  • Medications: Antipsychotics and mood-stabilizing medication are most commonly prescribed to treat schizophrenia. 
  • Psychosocial therapies: When a patient’s psychosis subsides over time, in addition to being prescribed medication, they might undergo individual therapy, social skills training, and family therapy.

How can I get diagnosed and treated for schizoaffective disorder?

Although there is no direct cure for schizoaffective disorder, there are numerous ways to receive help as research leads to safer, more innovative treatments. If you believe someone you love or know may suffer from schizoaffective, alert them of your concerns immediately. Seek medical attention from a medical professional at TeleMed2U and consult virtually with a number of our specialized psychiatrists, all from the comfort of your home.

Information

Medically reviewed by:

Dr Roy Kedem, MD

Dr Zenon Andreou studied medicine at University College London, graduating in 2006. His postgraduate training was in hospitals in and around London and he trained for four years in Otolaryngology before completing his training in General practice

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