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How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Different Than Schizophrenia?

Schizoaffective disorder is relatively unknown, and those struggling are commonly misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that one in 300 (0.3 percent) of the population will develop schizoaffective disorder at some point in their lives. While it is somewhat uncommon, the effects are often severe for those struggling. The condition is said to affect men and women at the same rate, but some reports indicate women are more likely to develop it than men.

Schizophrenia is more prevalent in the general population, and it is a severe chronic brain disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly. While it only affects one percent of the total population, it is viewed as one of the most debilitating diseases that affect humans. Roughly, 2.6 million adults in the United States aged 18 or older were diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2014, and 40 percent of individuals are untreated in a given year. 

Psychotic disorders typically emerge in late adolescence or early adulthood. The onset peaks between 18 and 25, but the reasons for its arrival are yet to be determined. Experts believe that psychotic breaks are the result of a long buildup, and they stem from molecular changes in the brain that begin nearly a decade before symptoms occur and progress. Over time, the symptoms will reach end-stage psychosis where reality surrenders to paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, or any disordered thinking.

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia share similarities, and doctors often have trouble pinpointing what you’re experiencing. Those with schizophrenia may hear voices that aren’t real and see things that don’t exist in reality, while schizoaffective disorder can make you feel detached from reality. It also has the potential to affect your mood. There are significant differences that can affect the type of treatment you receive. 

Causes of Psychotic Disorders

Medical experts have studied schizophrenia for years, but they still cannot determine what causes the condition. Initial studies suggest problems with brain chemicals such as glutamate and dopamine play a role. Doctors have also noticed that individuals with schizophrenia have physical brain differences than others.

Other factors also increase the odds of developing schizophrenia. If you consume mind-altering drugs, it can bring on symptoms. Other factors include if your father was older when you were born, or if your mother was in contact with specific viruses such as influenza when pregnant.

Schizoaffective disorder, however, has not been studied as rigorously as schizophrenia. There are clues as to what is happening. The genetics that controls your body’s sleep-wake rhythms may contribute to schizoaffective disorder.

Other factors that contribute to the development include stressful events. You may also have a higher chance of developing schizoaffective disorder if you have other mental illnesses or developmental delays.

Symptoms of Psychotic Disorders 

Those with schizophrenia may have symptoms doctors consider psychotic, which means you will lose touch with reality. You may hear or see things that aren’t real, known as hallucinations. You may also have delusions and believe things that aren’t true.

Schizoaffective disorder, however, is different. While the symptoms are somewhat similar, it’s considered a blend of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Those with bipolar will have mood swings that include severe mania and depression. Those with schizoaffective disorder will have these bipolar symptoms, but will also have psychotic symptoms similar to schizophrenia that last two weeks at a time.

How To Diagnose Schizoaffective Disorder and Schizophrenia

Doctors will attempt to diagnose these tough conditions after a thorough check of your symptoms. They may determine that you have schizophrenia if you have at least two of these symptoms:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Confused speech or bizarre thoughts
  • Negative symptoms, which include a lack of emotion or withdrawal from social activities
  • Unusual body movements

Even the most advanced physicians can have difficulty deciphering the difference between the two. Your doctor will likely diagnose you with schizoaffective disorder if you display these symptoms:

  • Symptoms that resemble a mood disorder on a regular basis
  • Hallucinations or delusions that last for two weeks without mood disorder symptoms
  • Mood problems like mania or depression that occur at the same time as schizophrenia symptoms

Treating Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder

Physicians routinely treat schizophrenia with antipsychotic drugs that manage hallucinations and delusions. They may be older antipsychotics or newer drugs that possess fewer side effects. 

Individuals with schizoaffective disorder typically improve on antipsychotic medication but depending on the case; your doctor may also prescribe a mood stabilizer to manage symptoms. You may benefit from talk therapy, which will teach you strategies to pursue goals and deal with unwanted thoughts or mood changes.

With the right treatment, it’s possible to resume an active lifestyle. You must reach out for help if you or someone you know has displayed any of these symptoms. They are debilitating conditions that require immediate care.

Sources

Sleep Disorders Center: Types of Sleep Disorders, Symptoms, Treatments, Causes, and Tests. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/default.htm

Bhandari, S. (2019, February 21). Schizophrenia vs. Schizoaffective Disorder: The Difference Explained. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-schizoaffective-disorder#1

Psychotic Disorders. (2019, November 1). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/psychoticdisorders.html

NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

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