Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Schizoaffective Disorder

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn more about schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a psychiatric disorder in which an individual experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms. Since this mental health condition is not well understood, it is not clearly defined. The lack of distinct definition may be due to the fact that schizoaffective disorder is a mix of many different mental health conditions that runs a unique course in each individual affected. There are two types of schizoaffective disorder: bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder, where an individual experiences episodes of mania (with or without depression) and depressive-type schizoaffective disorder, where the mood disorder part of the illness involves only major depressive episodes.

The psychotic features and mood disturbances experienced with this disorder can occur in interchangeable cycles or may occur together. The general sequence of schizoaffective disorder often features cycles of severe symptoms followed by an improved, more positive outlook. In order to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an individual must have displayed hallucinations or delusions for at least two weeks even while the symptoms of the mood disorder are well controlled.

If left untreated, individuals who have schizoaffective disorder may lead lonely lives due to their inability to hold meaningful lasting interpersonal relationships. Additionally, they may have daily challenges with work or school responsibilities. However, with the help of newer medication for schizophrenia and mood disorders and scientifically approved therapeutic interventions, individuals are able to effectively manage their symptoms.


Statistics of schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is about one-third as common as schizophrenia. It is believed that this disorder affects about 1 in 100 people. The lifetime prevalence for schizoaffective disorder is approximately 0.3%. The incidence rate of schizoaffective disorder appears to be higher in women, who are more likely to experience the depressive-type of schizoaffective disorder. Men are more likely to report more psychotic symptoms and longer duration of illness.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders

Schizoaffective disorder often occurs with a number of additional disorders. The most frequently co-occurring mental illnesses include:

  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Major depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • PTSD


Causes of schizoaffective disorder

It is unknown what causes this disorder, but many researchers believe that it is the combination of different factors that work together to cause the development of schizoaffective disorder. These causes for schizoaffective disorder may include:

Genetic: Similar to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder is thought to have direct genetic links. This means that individuals who have a first-degree relative with this disorder or family history of schizophrenia, mood disorders, or schizoaffective disorder are at a higher risk for developing the disorder themselves.

Brain Chemistry: It’s thought that schizoaffective disorder may involve imbalances in neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters help regulate mood and help relay electronic signals to the brain. Any imbalances in these neurotransmitters may result in the inability for the brain to properly regulate mood.

Environmental: Prenatal exposure to certain toxins or viruses may play some role in the development of this disorder. Additionally, birth complications may lead to the development of schizoaffective disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder

The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder are unique for each individual who is suffering with this disorder. These differing symptoms and courses can lead to some individuals being misdiagnosed and given improper treatment. The most common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder may include the following:

Schizophrenia symptoms:

  • Disorganized thinking – unclear or confused thoughts
  • Irritability or poor control of temper
  • Lack of spontaneous speech
  • Difficulty with attention and memory
  • Paranoid thoughts and ideas
  • Lack of concern for physical hygiene or appearance
  • Delusions – false yet firm beliefs
  • Hallucinations – especially auditory hallucinations or “hearing voices”
  • Strange, unusual thoughts
  • Thoughts of homicide
  • Speaking in a way that cannot be followed or understood
  • Behaving catatonically (a coma-like daze) or behaving in a hyperactive and bizarre fashion
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Reduced outward emotional expressions
  • Loss of motivation
  • Lack of ability to feel pleasure
  • Unusual perceptions

Depressive symptoms:

  • Hopelessness
  • Guilt
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Helplessness
  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Disrupted appetite
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Changes in motor activity
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal behaviors

Manic symptoms:

  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Pressured, fast speech
  • Distractibility
  • Increase in impulsive behaviors
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Increased amounts of energy
  • Agitation
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feelings of grandiosity
  • Spending large amounts of money
  • Increased risk-taking behavior
  • Substance abuse


Effects of schizoaffective disorder

Individuals who have schizoaffective disorder that remains untreated or improperly treated run the risk of developing numerous complications in their lives that can greatly affect their ability to function on a daily basis.

Some of the most common effects of untreated schizoaffective disorder may include the following:

  • Homelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulties following treatment plans
  • Decreased ability to carry out activities of daily living
  • Joblessness
  • Poverty
  • Lack of social support
  • Legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Problems with academic achievements
  • Consequences of risky behaviors
  • Development of schizophrenia
  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Alcoholism
  • Substance abuse, addiction, and dependency
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicide
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