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    What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

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    Causes continued...

    Environment: Environmental things -- such as a viral infection, bad relationships, or highly stressful situations -- may trigger schizoaffective disorder in people who are at risk for it. How that happens isn’t clear.

    Schizoaffective disorder usually begins in the late teen years or early adulthood, often between ages 16 and 30. It seems to happen slightly more often in women than in men. It's rare in children. 

    Because people with schizoaffective disorder have a combination of symptoms reflecting two separate mental illnesses, it’s often misdiagnosed. Some people may be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia, and others may be misdiagnosed with a mood disorder. As a result, it’s hard to determine exactly how many people actually have schizoaffective disorder. It’s probably less common than either schizophrenia or mood disorders alone.

    Diagnosis

    If a doctor thinks someone has symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, they’ll want to know everything about that person’s medical history -- both physical and mental. They may also give that person a physical exam.

    There are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose schizoaffective disorder. So doctors may use various tests -- such as brain imaging (like MRI scans) and blood tests -- to make sure that a physical illness isn’t the reason for the symptoms.

    If the doctor finds no physical cause, he may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist. These mental health professionals are trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. They use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a psychotic disorder.

    In order to diagnose someone with schizoaffective disorder, the person must have periods of uninterrupted illness and, at some point, an episode of mania, major depression, or a mix of both, while also having symptoms of schizophrenia. The person must also have had a period of at least two weeks of psychotic symptoms without the mood (depression or bipolar) symptoms.

    Treatment

    Treatment is very important. Research shows that it’s effective in keeping symptoms under control and helping the person manage the condition and get along better in their everyday life.

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