Definition

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health condition that has symptoms of a mood disorder and psychosis. It is a disorder that has some symptoms similar to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but is considered a separate disorder.

Causes

It is not clear what causes schizoaffective disorder. Some factors that may play a role in schizoaffective disorder include:

  • Imbalance of chemicals in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine
  • Changes in certain areas of the brain, such as those that affect emotion and cognition

These changes in the brain and chemicals may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

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Risk Factors

Schizoaffective disorder is more common in women than men.

A family history of mental illness may also increase the risk of schizoaffective disorder.

Symptoms

Symptoms may vary depending on age or gender. For example:

  • Males are more likely to develop symptoms which first appear during teen years or early twenties
  • Women are more likely to develop symptoms in their twenties
  • Younger people tend to have manic symptoms
  • Older people tend to have depressive symptoms

Symptoms also vary between people but may include a mix of symptoms of depression, mania, or psychosis.

Depressive symptoms can include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Poor appetite
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Difficulty sleeping including insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Suicidal or other morbid thoughts

Manic symptoms may include:

  • Rapid or racing thoughts
  • Increased activity and talking
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitation
  • Not needing sleep
  • Inflated self-esteem or lofty ideas
  • Self-harming behaviors

Psychotic symptoms may include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized speech, thinking, and behavior
  • Total calm
  • Lack of facial expression, speech, or motivation

These symptoms can also lead to difficulty carrying out basic self-care and hygiene tasks, cause problems creating or keeping personal relationships, and holding a job.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis is made according to the health history and symptoms that you and those around you report to the doctor. Certain features and symptoms will help your doctor identify schizoaffective disorder from other similar conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

You may be referred to a specialist for diagnosis.

Treatment

Treatment for schizoaffective disorder is focused on managing symptoms and preventing a worsening of symptoms. Most treatments include a combination of medication, counseling, and lifestyle changes.

Consistent contact with your healthcare team is important to keep treatment on track, address exacerbation, and improve quality of life.

Medication

Medication may help to manage symptoms. The exact type of medication will depend on your symptoms but may include one or more of the following types of medication:

  • Antipsychotic medications—to address symptoms of psychosis
  • Antidepressants
  • Mood stabilizers

Medication needs may change. Regular contact with your medical team can help identify when these changes may be needed.

Counseling

There are a variety of counseling options to help manage symptoms and the effects of this disorder. Some therapy options include:

  • Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy—to learn about the illness, manage problems, and create goals
  • Social skill training
  • Support groups
  • Family counseling—to help family members understand challenges and how to best provide support

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can help cope with challenges of a mental condition and decrease worsening of symptoms. Lifestyle changes may include:

  • Strive for regular daily routine.
  • Aim for a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
  • Identify stressors and try to avoid them.
  • Keep your home environment calm and relaxed.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drug use. Talk to your doctor if you are currently using drugs or drinking alcohol regularly.

Prevention

There are no current guidelines to prevent schizoaffective disorder because the cause is not known.

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