Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder
Who Gets Schizoaffective Disorder?
Schizoaffective disorder usually begins in the late teen years or early
adulthood, often between the ages of 16 and 30. It seems to occur slightly more
often in women than in men and is rare in children.
How Common Is Schizoaffective Disorder?
Because people with schizoaffective disorder have symptoms of two separate
mental illnesses, it is often misdiagnosed. Some people may be misdiagnosed as
having schizophrenia, and others may be misdiagnosed with a mood disorder. As a
result, it is difficult to determine exactly how many people actually are
affected by schizoaffective disorder. However, it is believed to be less common
than either schizophrenia or affective disorder alone. Estimates suggest that
about one in every 200 people (0.5%) develops schizoaffective disorder at some
time during his or her life.
How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnosed?
If symptoms of schizoaffective disorder are present, the doctor will perform
a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no laboratory
tests to specifically diagnose schizoaffective disorder, the doctor may use
various tests -- such as X-rays or blood tests -- to rule out a physical
illness as the cause of the symptoms.
If the doctor finds no physical reason for the symptoms, he or she may refer
the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who
are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and
psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate
a person for a psychotic disorder. A diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is
made if a person has periods of uninterrupted illness and has, at some point,
an episode of mania, major depression or mix of both while also having symptoms
of schizophrenia. In addition, to diagnose the illness, the person must display
a period of at least two weeks of psychotic symptoms without the mood
How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Treated?
Treatment for schizoaffective disorder typically involves medication to
stabilize the mood and treat the psychotic symptoms. In addition, psychotherapy
(a type of counseling) and skills training may be useful for improving
interpersonal, social and coping skills.
- Medication: The choice of medication
depends on the mood disorder associated with the illness. The primary
medications used to treat the psychotic symptoms associated with schizophrenia,
such as delusions, hallucinations, and disordered thinking, are called
antipsychotics. The mood-related symptoms may be treated with an antidepressant
medication or a mood stabilizer such as lithium. These medications may or may
not be used in combination with an antipsychotic medication.
- Psychotherapy: The goal of therapy is to
help the patient learn about the illness, establish goals, and manage everyday
problems related to the disorder. Family therapy can help families deal more
effectively with a loved one who has schizoaffective disorder, enabling them to
better help their loved one.
- Skills training: This generally focuses on work and
social skills, grooming and hygiene, and other day-to-day activities, including
money and home management.
- Hospitalization: Most people with schizoaffective
disorder are treated as outpatients. However, people with particularly severe
symptoms, or those in danger of hurting themselves or others may require
hospitalization to stabilize their conditions.