Schizoaffective Disorder Signs and Symptoms

Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with schizoaffective disorder?  If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn about schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental health disorder in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms and mood disorder symptoms. People with schizoaffective disorder will experience symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations, along with significant mood disturbances like depression and mania. Since schizoaffective disorder is a mix of mental health conditions, it is not well understood or defined, especially since it tends to run a unique course in each affected person. However, most experts in the field believe that schizoaffective disorder is a chronic mental illness that has psychotic symptoms at the core, with manic and depressive symptoms that present as a secondary component and medical treatment is necessary. While they are considered secondary, the manic and depressive symptoms are considered to be just as debilitating as the psychotic symptoms.

Statistics

Schizoaffective disorder statistics

It is believed that schizoaffective disorder is approximately one-third as common as schizophrenia, leaving it with a lifetime prevalence of 0.3%. The disorder is said to be more prevalent in women than it is in men, as two-thirds of people diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder are women.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizoaffective disorder

There is not one exact cause that has been identified as leading to the development of schizoaffective disorder. Its cause is instead believed to be a combination of factors that work in combination with one another to ultimately lead to the development of the disorder.

Genetic: Like most mental disorders, schizoaffective disorder is believed to have a genetic component present in its development. A person who has a first degree relative who is suffering from schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia is more likely to develop the illness than someone who does not have a similar family history.

Physical: It has been noted that people suffering from schizoaffective disorder have smaller brain volumes in comparison to a typical brain. Additionally, neuroimaging studies have shown that there are structural differences in the brain composition itself in people who have schizoaffective disorder. It has also been reported that people who have brain developmental delays may run the risk of developing the disorder as well.

Environmental: Scientists believe that exposure to toxins or viral illnesses while in the womb can cause an individual to become more susceptible to developing schizoaffective disorder. Some scientists also believe that birth complications can add to one’s susceptibility of developing the illness. Other environmental factors, such as being the victim of chronic abuse and neglect, may also play a role in the onset of the disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Presence of other mental health disorders
  • Developmental delays
  • Prenatal exposure to certain toxins or illnesses
  • Substance abuse
  • Having been the victim of abuse and/or neglect

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder

Individuals with this disorder will experience psychotic symptoms as well as mood disorder symptoms. Schizoaffective disorder symptoms will vary from person to person. Additionally, the presentation of symptoms will also rely heavily on whether or not the person suffering from the disorder is in a depressive state, a manic state, or a mixed state. Psychotic features and mood disturbances may occur at the same time or off and on interchangeably. The most common symptoms of schizoaffective disorder include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Impaired social functioning
  • Impaired occupational functioning
  • Alternating between slow and rapid movements
  • Social isolation
  • Disorganized speech or the absence of speech entirely
  • Disorganized behaviors
  • Catatonic behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Attempting suicide

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in physical appearance (i.e. no longer caring how one looks)
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Changes in sleep and/or eating patterns
  • Significant weight gain or weight loss
  • Lacking emotional expression

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Racing thoughts
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Difficulty planning
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Memory impairments
  • Paranoid thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Major episodes of depression
  • Major episodes of mania
  • Poor motivation
  • Anxiety
  • Grandiose self-esteem or poor self-esteem
  • Suicidal ideation

Effects

Effects of schizoaffective disorder

When schizoaffective disorder goes untreated, or is not properly diagnosed, the long-term effects of the illness can be detrimental. Individuals with this disorder may lead lonely lives and have a difficult time holding down a job. In some instances, they may rely on family or have to live in a supported environment, like a group home. Some examples of effects can include, but are not limited to:

  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Unemployment
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Financial instability
  • Loss of significant relationships
  • Family problems
  • Significant health problems
  • Suicidal ideation and/or behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizoaffective disorder and co-occurring disorders

People suffering from schizoaffective disorder have the potential to be suffering from another mental illness as well. The three disorders that are most frequently diagnosed along with schizoaffective disorder include:

  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

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