While their names are similar, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are distinct conditions that are diagnosed and treated differently. However, they are both defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) as psychotic disorders and they share certain core elements, so it is easy for people unfamiliar with the illnesses to confuse the two.
The Difference Between Schizoaffective Disorder and Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by psychotic symptoms that make it difficult for the person to relate to other people, practice self-care, have a job or stay in touch with reality. The condition affects approximately 1% of the population, typically appearing in men in their early 20s and women in their late 20s or early 30s.
For a healthcare professional to make a diagnosis of schizophrenia, these symptoms must be present for a month or more:
- Hallucinations – Hearing, seeing or otherwise perceiving things that are not present
- Delusions – Beliefs not backed by evidence
- Disorganized speech – For example, word patterns that do not make sense or answers that don’t match the questions asked
- Disorganized behavior – Agitated or unusual behavior, or unresponsiveness
- General apathy – Poor personal hygiene, blank facial expression, lack of interest in activities
People with schizophrenia may also have issues associated with maintaining attention, processing new information, solving problems and memory. The symptoms must be severe enough that they interfere with school, work, relationships or self-care and they cannot be the result of drug or alcohol abuse.
Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder
Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that has many of the symptoms of schizophrenia such as delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking and flat affect (i.e., emotionless facial expression). The illness also has symptoms of a mood disorder like depression and mania. Approximately 0.3% of the population is affected by schizoaffective disorder, with men generally developing it earlier than women.
There are two types of schizoaffective disorder:
- Depressive type, in which the person has episodes of major depression
- Bipolar type, in which the person has episodes of mania and major depression
Distinguishing Between Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder
The mood disorder component is what distinguishes the schizoaffective disorder from schizophrenia. While a person who has schizophrenia may experience mania or depression, those symptoms are of a much shorter duration than in schizoaffective disorder, where they may last for more than half the duration of the illness.
Also, in schizophrenia, the mood symptoms are typically only present when the psychotic symptoms are active. In schizoaffective disorder, the mania or depression may occur with or without the psychotic symptoms. Ultimately, assessment by a trained healthcare professional is needed to confidently identify schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
Treating Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder
The primary mode of treatment both for schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder is prescription medication. With schizophrenia, one of a number of antipsychotic medications is typically used. Treatment of schizoaffective disorder involves both antipsychotics, to treat the psychotic symptoms, and antidepressants or mood stabilizers to address the mood symptoms.
To learn more about these serious but treatable conditions, find a Baptist Health Behavior Health Provider.