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How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Different Than Bipolar Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a severe psychiatric disorder that shares similarities to schizophrenia. The disorder has the potential to affect all aspects of life, which include social relationships, work, and self-care skills. Those struggling with the condition may have various symptoms, including unusual hallucinations, beliefs others don’t share, severe mood swings, low motivation, poor attention, and an inability to experience pleasure. 

The severe nature of schizoaffective disorder requires someone to go to a hospital and get immediate care. Some people have described the experience as dreaming while awake, and you may not be able to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality.

About one in every two hundred people will develop schizoaffective disorder at some point in their life. It is one of the most common severe psychiatric disorders, and individuals occupy more hospital beds with schizophrenia and schizoaffective than any other mental condition.

Bipolar disorder, however, is a much more common mental illness that will cause dramatic shifts in someone’s mood, energy, and affect how they think. Those struggling with bipolar will experience highs and lows, which are known as depression and mania. These differ from the standard ups and downs we deal with in life.

The average age that someone will develop bipolar is 25, but it can also occur in teens. In some rare cases, children can develop the condition. It affects men and women equally; 2.8 percent of U.S. adults experience bipolar each year, and approximately 83 percent of bipolar cases are classified as severe.

If bipolar is left untreated, the symptoms will gradually worsen. With a proper treatment plan that includes medication, psychotherapy, and a healthy lifestyle, many people are able to resume normal functions in their lives. The symptoms, however, can vary in severity. Some people may wonder, however, how these two conditions differ. Let’s take a look at what schizoaffective and bipolar disorder consist of and their symptoms.

What Is Schizoaffective Disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a chronic condition that is similar to schizophrenia, which consists of symptoms like delusions or hallucinations. Many of those struggling with this disorder will be misdiagnosed with either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Schizoaffective disorder information is not readily available like bipolar or schizophrenia, and many of the treatment approaches are borrowed from other conditions.

Schizoaffective disorder can only be diagnosed in a clinical interview. The interview intends to determine whether the individual has specific symptoms consistent with the disorder and if the symptoms have been present long enough to merit a diagnosis. The physician making the determination must also check to make sure the individual is not experiencing physical problems that may cause symptoms similar to schizoaffective disorder, such as brain tumors or substance abuse.

Symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Thinking disturbances
  • Apathy
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Interruptions in speech
  • Inattention

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorder, and it is characterized by dramatic shifts in energy, mood, and activity levels that will cause problems in carrying out daily tasks. The shifts in energy and mood can be severe. Someone with bipolar disorder may have distinct depressed or manic states but can have extended periods without symptoms. 

Severe episodes of depression or manic can include psychotic symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations – this is why it can be difficult to make a diagnosis between schizoaffective and bipolar on some occasions. The symptoms are similar in severe cases of bipolar disorder, and it is common for misdiagnosis.

There are four types of bipolar disorder, and these include:

  • Bipolar I Disorder
  • Bipolar II Disorder
  • Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia
  • Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified”

How Do Schizoaffective Disorder and Bipolar Disorder Differ?

Physicians have a difficult time diagnosing schizoaffective disorder, and it’s a common mistake to believe someone is struggling with bipolar as opposed to the other condition. Bipolar disorder consists of similar symptoms, which include episodes of depression and mania. Someone with schizoaffective disorder will experience psychosis, such as delusions and hallucinations. Due to the overlap in symptoms, achieving the proper diagnosis requires a thorough examination.

An individual can have both schizoaffective and bipolar disorder, which can further complicate the diagnosis. The overlapping symptoms include:

  • Psychotic episodes: In some cases of bipolar disorder, hallucinations and delusions can arise during severe episodes of depression or mania
  • Disorganized thinking: This is common in schizoaffective disorder, but someone struggling with bipolar will have disorganized thoughts during an episode of mania. 
  • Symptoms of depression: During extended periods of depression, someone with either condition may demonstrate a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. For some, they cannot experience pleasure, will have trouble concentrating, and cannot make decisions.

There are reports that highlight high rates of alcohol and drug misuse among those with either condition. When someone has a significant symptom overlap, they will receive a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.

Sources

Schizoaffective Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9563-schizoaffective-disorder

Nesvåg, R., Knudsen, G. P., Bakken, I. J., Høye, A., Ystrom, E., Surén, P., … Reichborn-Kjennerud, T. (2015, August). Substance use disorders in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depressive illness: a registry-based study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25680837

Bipolar Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/bipolar-disorder.shtml

NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/bipolar-disorder

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