You may have heard of schizophrenia, but the term schizoaffective disorder may not ring a bell. While the condition only affects a small portion of our society, experts are still learning more about this severe ailment.

The term schizoaffective psychosis was introduced to the public in 1933 by a Russian psychiatrist known by Jacob Kasanin. It was defined as a subgroup of psychosis where affective and schizophrenic symptoms appear simultaneously. It could be within a few days of another or within the same episode of illness.

Other concepts, like mixed psychosis and intermediate psychosis, were used to describe the differences between affective and schizophrenic disorders. Kasanin’s terminology, however, persisted and gave rise to the subgroup we know today as schizoaffective disorder. The specific causes remain unknown, but two types of the condition have been established.

One of those is bipolar disorder, which is mood disturbances that are manic or mixed (manic and depressive). The other is a depressive condition, where mood disturbances include severe depressive symptoms.

Schizoaffective disorder is debilitating and requires treatment. Unfortunately, individuals must use medication along with psychotherapy to manage their symptoms. All cases will differ, and the only way to determine what is right for you is to speak with a medical professional. Let’s take a look an in-depth look at schizoaffective disorder and see how it’s treated.

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a psychotic disorder characterized by a combination of symptoms, which include delusions or hallucinations, symptoms of a mood disorder, mania, and depression. The symptoms are similar to schizophrenia, but there are some key differences.

Due to its sharing symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, doctors commonly misdiagnose the condition. Schizoaffective disorder is not well studied, and many interventions and treatment techniques are borrowed from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), schizoaffective disorder is seen in only 0.3 percent of the population. There is some conflicting information, but the majority of reports agree that the condition is more prevalent in women than men.

Those who leave the condition untreated will have trouble functioning at school, work, or in social situations. Individuals with schizoaffective disorder may have a difficult time holding down a job or attending school. It can cause the person to isolate, which can lead to loneliness.

Causes Of Schizoaffective Disorder

The precise cause is schizoaffective disorder is still unknown, but there is a combination of factors believed to contribute to the condition. Brain structure and genetics are the most prominent two reasons that contribute, but other reasons that may cause this include:

  • Using mind-altering drugs (psychotropic or psychoactive)
  • Stressful events, such as a death in the family or divorce
  • A close blood-related relative has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder will not occur all at once; instead, the onset will occur gradually over a span of a decade. The events above may trigger symptoms that have been developing over this time, and the age of onset is typically in early adulthood. The symptoms can occur anytime from adolescence through late life.

Symptoms Of Schizoaffective Disorder

There are two significant subsets of schizoaffective disorder, which include:

  • Bipolar disorder: This particular subtype is given when a manic episode if part of the presentation of symptoms. Major depressive episodes may also occur.
  • Depressive type: This subtype is only given when a major depressive episode presents itself.

Individuals may experience varying symptoms based on the diagnosis. The course of schizoaffective disorder features cycles of serious symptoms, followed by periods of improvement. These symptoms include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Manic behavior
  • Severely depressed mood
  • Problems managing personal care
  • Impaired functioning

Treating Schizoaffective Disorder

Treatment will vary on a case-by-case basis and the severity of symptoms. Individuals typically respond well to an approach comprised of medication, life-skills training, and psychotherapy. Due to the severity of the condition, hospitalization is necessary in some cases. Suicidal behavior is a risk, and you must treat this immediately.

  • Medication management: Medicine is necessary to treat schizoaffective disorder, and a physician may provide their patient with antipsychotics to manage the symptoms of delusion and hallucinations. They may also provide mood stabilizers and antidepressants.
  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy will help someone manage and learn to cope with their symptoms. Group therapy will be helpful in decreasing the social isolation that comes with schizoaffective disorder.
  • Life skills training: Learning these skills will be helpful and improve someone’s quality of life. There is no cure for schizoaffective disorder, and social skills training will help improve communication and how the person interacts with others at home or in a work setting. Life skills training will also help someone prepare, find, and maintain employment.

With the proper treatment, it is possible for someone to improve their life and avoid relapses. You must speak with a doctor and get help today to determine what works best for you.

Treatment Goals for Schizoaffective Disorder

As was mentioned above, schizoaffective disorder treatment involves medication, life skills training, and psychotherapy. However, due to the severity of the condition, it’s not shocking to hear about someone getting hospitalized to treat their symptoms. Still, sometimes people might wonder about the treatment goals for schizoaffective disorder. The objective of treatment and using medication is to even out moods and reduce symptoms of psychosis. Those who respond well to treatment can even eliminate their psychosis. Various medications are used to treat schizoaffective disorder. However, most people benefit from using several drugs.

While only one drug is used to treat the condition, a new treatment for schizoaffective disorder may become available soon. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers paliperidone (Invega) for schizoaffective disorder. Still, it is exploring the option of using several drugs that treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.

Schizoaffective disorder medication has come a long way. Antipsychotic drugs, sometimes referred to as neuroleptics, are the primary means of treating the often severe condition. The most common symptoms are hallucinations, and medications like haloperidol, risperidone, olanzapine, and clozapine are used to stabilize these symptoms.

Treatment for Schizophrenia Without Medication

Many people avoid getting help for schizophrenia because the medication they’re prescribed can leave them feeling numb. However, you might wonder, is there treatment for schizophrenia without medication? The best treatments for schizophrenia are commonly a mixture of drugs and therapy. However, since there is a reluctance to seek help because of the intense effects of medicine, providers may opt to use talk therapy, communication, and social skills training, career coaching, and family therapy.

Your doctor could also recommend another approach, such as relaxation therapies like yoga. Yoga can help a person manage the weight gain often attributed to medication used for schizophrenia. It can also help regulate their emotions. Unfortunately, while your doctor will exhaust all resources available before using medication, schizophrenia is a severe condition that you might need to take drugs to manage it.

What Happens When Psychosis Is Left Untreated?

Treating psychosis and conditions like schizoaffective disorder is important. Treating the disorder reduces psychotic symptoms and restores the quality of your life, allowing you to function normally and preventing severe complications. If you or someone you know is struggling to contain psychotic symptoms stemming from schizoaffective disorder, they’re at serious risk of not doing anything to treat it.

Leaving psychosis untreated can lead to very serious complications. When treatment is delayed, the consequences can be more severe. Untreated psychosis from schizoaffective disorder can impact all areas of the individual’s life, ranging from impairment at work, school, home, relationships, or with society as a whole. Someone dealing with psychosis can’t take care of themselves properly and are at risk of hurting themselves or others.

Some examples of what happens when people forgo schizoaffective disorder treatment include the following:

  • Financial problems
  • Homelessness
  • Inability to remain employed
  • Hospitalization
  • Substance abuse and substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • Dropping out of school
  • Social isolation
  • Self-harm
  • Harming others
  • Depression or anxiety
  • New or worsening medical conditions

The importance of early psychosis treatment can’t be stressed enough. Studies show that when treatment is initiated early for psychosis, the patient has a much better long-term prognosis. The duration of schizoaffective disorder treatment will vary from one person to another. However, evidence shows treatment for psychosis is more effective when it’s shorter than the duration of untreated psychosis.

If you’re battling schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia, you should never delay getting help. We understand that medication often makes you feel worse than the condition itself, but doctors will work with you or your loved one to find the most effective means of treatment. 

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