What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective Disorder describes a condition in which a person suffers from elements of two different major mental illnesses: schizophrenia and a mood disorder.
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Schizoaffective disorder has features of schizophrenia, like delusions and hallucinations, as well as components of a mood disorder, like depression or mania. The combination of symptoms from these very dissimilar spectrums makes diagnoses and subsequent treatment of schizoaffective disorder extremely challenging.
There are two subtypes of schizoaffective disorder: schizoaffective disorder with bipolar features and schizoaffective disorder with depressive features.
How Common Is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Research does not have an exact number of individuals with schizoaffective disorder, but it is estimated at approximately five in 1000 people. It's estimated that schizoaffective disorder affects less people than mood disorders and schizophrenia.
These numbers are simply an estimate - no studies regarding schizoaffective disorder have been performed. The prevalence internationally of schizoaffective disorders has been exceedingly difficult as the diagnostic criteria for the disorder has changed.
Differentiating between schizoaffective disorder and either schizophrenia or a mood disorder can be quite challenging, as many of the symptoms overlap. In a more recent study of almost 1000 people, it was found that approximately one quarter of those diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, 33 percent were originally given a different diagnosis.
Who Has Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder is a relatively uncommon mental illness but there are some commonalities.
Schizoaffective disorder tends to occur in women more often than men, but this may be due to more women being diagnosed with the depressive subtype rather than the bipolar subtype.
Men who have schizoaffective disorder tend to show antisocial traits and behaviors.
The age of onset is later for women than men.
Children rarely have schizoaffective disorder.
Younger people who are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder often have schizoaffective disorder with bipolar disorder subtype.
Older people who are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder tend to exhibit the depressive subtype.
What Are The Symptoms Of Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder is a blend of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, but what does this mean? It means that the person who has schizoaffective disorder exhibits the primary symptoms of schizophrenia, which can include:
- Disorganized speech
- Disorganized behavior
Depressive symptoms can include:
- Mood, eating, sleeping, or weight changes
- Suicidal thoughts
Manic episodes include:
- Rapid thoughts and speech
- Disorganized thoughts and speech
- Excess of energy
- Little to no sleep for days
Schizoaffective disorder can be differentiated in to two subtypes, depending on the type of symptoms displayed. In both cases, the person will demonstrate significant symptoms of schizophrenia.
In the depressive subtype of schizoaffective disorder, the individual displays symptoms of a major depressive episode.
In the bipolar subtype of schizoaffective disorder, the individual experiences at least one manic episode.
Diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder:
Diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder can be difficult because of the overlap of symptoms, particularly in differentiating schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia. Often healthcare professionals look for mood-related symptoms, which tend to last much longer in a person with schizoaffective disorder than they would for someone suffering from schizophrenia.
It is easier to differentiate schizoaffective disorder from a mood disorder because the symptoms of schizophrenia are apparent, with hallucinations or delusions being identified for a period of at least two weeks, separate from mood symptoms.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (TR-IV), the following criteria must be met for a confirmed diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.
- An uninterrupted period of illness during which, at some time, there is either a major depressive episode, a manic episode, or a mixed episode, concurrent with symptoms of schizophrenia. The depressive episode must include depressed mood as a symptom.
- During the same period of illness, there must have been delusions or hallucinations for at least two weeks in the absence of prominent mood symptoms.
- Symptoms that meet criteria for a mood episode are present for a substantial portion of the total duration of the active and residual periods of the illness.
- The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance, drug, or medical condition.
While the symptoms may be difficult to extract from the overlap in diagnosis potential, there are a few particular signs to look for that may help discern schizoaffective disorder from other disorders. Specifically:
- Onset of illness is typically in adulthood.
- It is more common in females.
- The individual has difficulty following a moving object with his or her eyes.
- REM sleep begins unusually early in the sleep cycle.
There is also evidence that those who have close relatives with a mood disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder are more likely to develop schizoaffective disorder later.
Further, there is a greater risk for complications of schizoaffective disorder.
Treatment of Schizoaffective Disorder:
Treatment of schizoaffective disorder is often provided using a blend of therapies.
Antipsychotic medication may be used to manage schizophrenic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia.
Antidepressants or mood stabilizers may be used to manage mood-related problems such as mania and depression.
Therapy is also a valuable tool for working on social skills and life skills required to keep a psychosocial balance. This can include individual therapy for the person with schizoaffective disorder to understand the condition and manage social relationships, as well as developing common skills and setting liveable treatment goals.
Family therapy can assist the family dynamic in managing the outcome of schizoaffective disorder, as well as to build a support network for the individual.
Additional Resources About Schizoaffective Disorder:
National Alliance on Mental Health - This website is a valuable tool in researching mental health issues, such as schizoaffective disorder.
Mental Health America - This website provides general information about schizoaffective disorder, but contains a large section of potential symptoms.