For a person with schizoaffective disorder, a mental condition that causes both a loss of contact with reality and mood problems, life may be wracked with sorrow one day, and disturbed by hallucinations the next. Schizoaffective disorder can last for at least 2 weeks without major mood symptoms. The course of the disorder involves cycles of severe symptoms followed by improvement. People with schizoaffective disorder, which affects .5% of the American population, have symptoms of schizophrenia, a brain disorder that distorts the way an individual acts, thinks, relates to others, and perceives reality. But they ALSO have symptoms of a mood disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder. It's important to note, however that the signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder are different in each person. Depression is an illness characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Bipolar disorder, meanwhile, is characterized by cycling HIGH moods, called mania, and LOW moods, ALSO called depression. Common schizophrenic symptoms seen in this disorder include delusions, or unwavering beliefs based in fantasy and hallucinations, which involve seeing and hearing things that aren't really there. Disorganized thinking, lack of emotion, and very minimal movements are other schizophrenic symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Meanwhile, depressive symptoms include feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, lethargy, loss of interest in once pleasurable activities and thoughts of death or suicide. Remember, depressive symptoms may stand alone, or they may appear as half of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. The OTHER half of bipolar disorder, mania, may manifest in schizoaffective disorder as rapid or racing thoughts and speech patterns decreased need for sleep and increased social, work, and sexual activity. These schizoaffective symptoms usually appear from ages 16 to 30, and they occur slightly more often in women. No one knows for SURE what makes schizoaffective disorder develop.. However, a tendency to develop the illness DOES run in families. Additionally, schizoaffective disorder is believed to relate to an imbalance of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. There is also evidence to suggest that environmental factors ranging from a highly stressful life to contracting a viral infection may lead to schizoaffective disorder in people genetically or chemically PREDISPOSED to the illness. Often, people with the disease are misdiagnosed as being solely schizophrenic, solely depressive, or solely bipolar. Those with schizoaffective disorder tend to seek treatment for problems with mood, daily function, or abnormal thoughts. Psychosis and mood changes may occur at one time, or off and on by themselves. For this reason, the American Psychiatric Association outlines very specific guidelines for diagnosing the disorder. If schizoaffective disorder IS established, prescription medication is the cornerstone of treatment. Usually the combination of antipsychotic and mood-stabilizing medication controls both depressive and manic symptoms, but some people may also need antidepressants. Paxil or Lexapro are frequently used antidepressants for those with schizoaffective disorder... and lithium may also be prescribed if bipolar symptoms need stablilization. Antipsychotic medications, like Clozaril and Risperdal, may ALSO be prescribed to ease symptoms of schizophrenia. Generally, psychotherapy is used to supplement this medication regimen. But left UNTREATED, schizoaffective disorder may make it difficult to hold down a job... or attend school. It can also cause a sufferer to lead an isolated, lonely life. Because treatment really CAN ease symptoms of the disorder, please see a doctor if you think schizoaffective disorder is affecting YOUR life or the life of a loved one!
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012