Schizoaffective disorder is a complicated mental health issue that can be difficult to diagnose because it combines symptoms of schizophrenia with a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder. For that reason, schizoaffective disorder is often diagnosed as just depression or schizophrenia before new symptoms develop, and a new diagnosis is given. This disorder has symptoms that can alter your effect, or the way you feel, and your cognition, or the way you think.

But where does a complex mental health issue like this come from? Can schizoaffective disorder be genetic? This is an important question, especially if the answer is yes. If your parents or grandparents have it, you might need to watch out for it. If you have it, you might have to monitor your children for it. Today, researchers have come to discover that mental health and genetics are closely related, which shows that our psychological makeup might be as relevant to our genes as our physical attributes.

Learn more about the genetics of schizoaffective disorder and what your genes mean for your mental health.

Do Genes Determine Mental Health?

Research into schizoaffective disorder and related mood disorders like depression and bipolar disorder has found a significant genetic link. Though it was once assumed that mental health problems were issues that came from developmental or environmental factors, we are finding that genetics play a significant role in the development of psychological conditions and disorders. For the most part, it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific cause of any mental health problem. More likely, it’s a combination of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors coming together to cause the disorder. Still, genetics often play a significant role, making up a large percentage of the overall risk. For instance, genetics are said to make up half of a person’s risk of developing an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

However, since schizoaffective disorder is so complex, the genetics of the disorder are still something of a mystery. According to the U.S. Library of Medicine, genetic factors in the disorder are likely tied to a combination of many small variations in your genes rather than one profound genetic anomaly. However, there may be some specific genetic variations that cause more significant effects, but these are rare. Researchers have also identified some specific genes that may be linked to schizoaffective disorder, including genes that regulate your circadian rhythm, genes that regulate cell movement during brain development, and genes involved in sending and receiving chemical signals in the brain and body.

One gene that has been identified to have particular involvement in the risk for schizoaffective disorder is one that helps make part of your GABA receptors. These receptors bind with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in order to regulate excitability in the nervous system. GABA also helps facilitate sleep by helping you to relax by relieving stress and alertness. The genes that are involved in schizoaffective disorder are also involved in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, there are some genetic variations that seem to be unique to schizoaffective disorder.

How Much Do Genes Affect Schizoaffective Disorder?

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We still aren’t sure as to the degree your genes can affect the development of schizoaffective disorder. But there is a significant amount of evidence that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have highly influential genetic factors. Twin studies are often used to study genetic diseases in a way that can help to eliminate environmental and developmental variables. Twin studies often compare identical twins, who are genetically similar, and fraternal twins, who are genetically unique. If a disorder or disease consistently manifests in both identical twins and only one fraternal twin, it suggests a genetic component. Twin studies that investigate the inheritance pattern of schizoaffective disorder have found the risk for one identical twin to develop schizoaffective disorder after the other twin, is about 40 percent. Fraternal twins only showed a five percent risk increase when one twin was diagnosed with the disorder.

Is Schizoaffective Disorder Inevitable?

Schizoaffective disorder is less common than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. However, statistics showing it’s frequency may be skewed because of the difficulties in diagnosing the disorder. Still, if your first degree relatives are diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, your risk factors for getting it yourself are much higher than the average person. First-degree relatives are people in your immediate family, like your parents, siblings, and children. Still, just because your relatives get the disorder doesn’t guarantee that you will too.

There is no known way to prevent schizoaffective disorder, but general good mental health practices like mitigating stress, getting enough sleep, and a healthy diet and exercise may lower your chance of experiencing certain mental health problems. Otherwise, it’s important to monitor your mental health for symptoms to catch problems early before they can negatively impact your life.

Why Seek Treatment?

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues that may be related to schizoaffective disorder, there is help available. Though this and other mental health issues can be complex, they are treatable with the right medications and therapies for your needs. However, schizoaffective disorder can get worse if it’s not treated. Treatment options can include medications like antipsychotics or serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It may also include psychotherapies and psychoeducation. To take steps toward better mental health today, learn more about schizoaffective disorder and how it can be treated.

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