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What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a diagnosis in which someone has symptoms of both schizophrenia and a mood disorder. Usually, people with schizoaffective disorder have psychosis (loss of contact with reality) along with periods of depression (extreme lows) and/or mania (extreme highs) like those seen in bipolar disorder.

Schizoaffective Disorder vs. Schizophrenia

Both schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia cause psychosis. With schizoaffective disorder, however, you may also have prominent mood symptoms. In schizophrenia, people don’t typically have mood episodes. 

Schizoaffective Disorder vs. Bipolar Disorder

Both schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder tend to cause intense periods of mania followed by periods of depression. Both schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder can also include symptoms of psychosis.

But in schizoaffective disorder, you have psychotic symptoms even when you’re not experiencing mood symptoms. In bipolar disorder, psychotic symptoms typically only occur during episodes of mania or depression.

Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms

Schizoaffective disorder causes psychotic symptoms:

  • Actions that appear bizarre or unusual
  • Delusions (thoughts that aren’t consistent with reality)
  • Hallucinations
  • Hearing voices
  • Illogical thoughts or speech

Schizoaffective disorder also causes mood symptoms. Mood symptoms may include periods of mania. You might experience the following signs of a manic mood:

  • Agitation
  • High energy
  • Low or no sleep
  • Periods of intensive productivity or activity
  • Talking a lot or quickly
  • Racing thoughts

Mood symptoms can also include periods of depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Little interest in activities
  • Low energy
  • Low productivity
  • Slow thinking

Types of Schizoaffective Disorder

There are two main types of schizoaffective disorder:

  • Bipolar schizoaffective disorder is the most common type. People with this type have psychosis along with periods of mania and depression.
  • Depressive schizoaffective disorder is extremely rare. People with schizoaffective disorder depressive types have psychosis along with profound periods of depression and no periods of mania.

What Causes Schizoaffective Disorder?

Researchers are still figuring out what causes schizoaffective disorder. We know that people with a family history of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia have an increased risk of schizoaffective disorder. But having a family history of these disorders doesn’t always cause schizoaffective disorder. Researchers haven’t identified a specific gene or genetic link to schizoaffective disorder.

What Triggers Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a biological illness. But certain environmental factors may trigger the onset of the illness or symptoms:

  • Early cannabis use
  • Childhood adversity or abuse
  • Drug use
  • Severe stress

Criteria Used to Diagnose Schizoaffective Disorder

Your psychiatrist will need a thorough medical history to diagnose schizoaffective disorder accurately. During an evaluation for schizoaffective disorder, your psychiatrist will ask you a series of questions:

  • What symptoms do you experience?
  • How have your symptoms changed over time?
  • What treatments have you tried?
  • Have any treatments helped?

We will also ask to speak with a family member or other loved one who can help describe your symptoms. This will give us a more well-rounded picture of your condition.

Is There a Test for Schizoaffective Disorder?

There’s not one specific test to diagnose schizoaffective disorder definitively. But your provider will order blood tests or other laboratory tests to rule out underlying medical conditions that could cause psychotic or mood symptoms.

Why Choose Huntsman Mental Health Institute?

Huntsman Mental Health Institute at University of Utah Health offers comprehensive, individualized treatment for schizoaffective disorder. Our team members have extensive experience evaluating, diagnosing, and treating a full range of complex psychiatric conditions, including schizoaffective disorder.

We provide a variety of therapies for treatment-resistant schizoaffective disorder through the Treatment-Resistant Mood Disorders (TRMD) Clinic. Our TRMD Clinic is the only place in the Mountain West region that offers the full range of neurostimulation treatments for mood disorders that don’t respond to medicines. We pride ourselves on delivering patient-centered, individualized care to help you live a high quality of life.

Schizoaffective Disorder Treatment

There’s no cure for schizoaffective disorder, but treatment can help you manage symptoms and have fewer episodes. Your psychiatrist can recommend a personalized, effective treatment plan.

You should seek help for schizoaffective disorder any time the symptoms of a mental health disorder affect your ability to function.

You may access treatment for schizoaffective disorder several locations:

Medications for Schizoaffective Disorder

Many people with schizoaffective disorder respond well to medications:

  • Antipsychotics—Your psychiatrist may prescribe antipsychotics as oral medicines, intramuscular injections, or long-acting injections. You will receive long-acting injections in the office every 1–3 months. These injectables are often very effective at preventing symptoms from returning.
  • Mood stabilizers—Mood stabilizers are oral medicines that help prevent mania and depression. There are many types of mood stabilizers. Your psychiatrist will help you find the specific medication that’s most effective for you.
  • Antidepressants—Occasionally, some people will take an antidepressant to control severe depression. You will probably only take an antidepressant if you have many depressive episodes or have depressive schizoaffective disorder.

You may need to take more than one type of medication to control both psychosis and mood episodes. Most people will take one antipsychotic medication and one mood stabilizer.

Options for Treatment-Resistant Schizoaffective Disorder

If your symptoms don’t improve with medicine, and you are in a mood episode of your schizoaffective disorder, you may be a candidate for the TRMD Clinic.

The TRMD Clinic provides a range of treatments for treatment-resistant mood disorders, some of which are appropriate for schizoaffective disorder, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Does Schizoaffective Disorder Get Worse with Age?

Experts don’t know whether schizoaffective disorder worsens with age. In bipolar disorder, the more frequently you have mood episodes, the more your brain becomes sensitive to them. This tends to increase your risk of experiencing more mood episodes. The same phenomenon, known as kindling, could be true with schizoaffective disorder.

How to Help Someone with Schizoaffective Disorder

Supporting someone who doesn’t believe they have a mental health condition can be a huge challenge. People with schizoaffective disorder can lose touch with reality, which makes it hard for them to see that they have a mental health disorder.

Do your best to avoid judging or arguing with your friend or loved one who deals with schizoaffective disorder. Find common ground with them, letting them know you are on their side. You can encourage them to seek treatment and remind them to take their medications.

How to Seek Help for Schizoaffective Disorder

Talk with your primary care provider if you experience symptoms of a mental health condition. At U of U Health, you may be able to see a psychiatrist in your primary care clinic. Or you can contact one of our mental health clinics. You may also call 801-585-1212 to schedule a one-time psychiatric assessment with our rapid access Consult Clinic.

Call 988 for the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline if you experience thoughts of harming yourself or others.

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Mental Health Crisis Resources

We are here for you when you need us the most. Our team of professionals are trained in:

  • mental health crisis management,
  • suicide prevention, and
  • emotional wellness.

HMHI provides the following specialty programs and resources for you and your loved ones to prevent mental health crises and provide emotional support when needed.

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