Schizoaffective Disorder

There are times when a person may be experiencing some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, but not all of them or not enough of them as sanctioned by the Diagnostic and  Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to obtain an actual diagnosis (and in turn, the treatment needed).  And maybe they are displaying symptoms associated with other mental illnesses in addiction to some schizophrenia symptoms.  This is a complicated issue, make no mistake.  It is complex for the patient as well as the doctor.  Hopefully the person suffering will consult a psychiatrist or psychologist, someone who is trained to recognize the complexities and subtleties, because then they will surely know about schizoaffective disorder.

What is Schizoaffective Disorder?

First off, please know that you’ll often encounter schizoaffective disorder being referred to by two possible abbreviations: SAD and SZA.  Either one is correct but be familiar with both in case the person you’re communicating with isn’t!  Schizoaffective disorder is mixture of two types of mental illness categories.  Schizophrenia, for instance, is classified as a thought disorder due to the presence of psychosis.  Something like bipolar disorder is called a mood disorder because it largely affects the emotional state of the sufferer.  What does this have to do with schizoaffective disorder?

Associated Symptoms of SZA

Schizoaffective disorder is a mixture of the two classifications while often never quite becoming a full case of either.  It features the symptoms of schizophrenia like hallucinations, delusions, word salad, and confused thinking.  It also features the symptoms of either depression alone or bipolar disorder, which includes the symptoms of depression and mania both within itself.  Mania, for those who aren’t familiar, is the opposite of depression and involves an overly optimistic and hyper thinking that isn’t always based in logic or reasoning.

The situation becomes even more confusing due to the usual co-occurrence of other disorders, such as generalized anxiety or substance abuse issues.  Oftentimes these can even mask the true issue because you can’t ever rule out psychosis and mood disruption due to substance abuse if the person is currently using illicit substances.  This illness can cause many problems in the person’s social life and career as well, causing isolation, poverty, and homelessness, which leads to the individual never seeking solid help and obtaining a proper diagnosis.

The Prevalence of Schizoaffective Disorder

It is said that the prevalence of SZA/SAD is in between half a percentage and one percent of the population dealing with this illness.  These are the numbers as reported by the DSM-IV, but due to an improvement in the definition and diagnosis, the number may be slightly skewed at the present.

Causes and Contributing Factors

Just like schizophrenia, it is difficult to pin such a complicated issue on one or even a small set of factors.  The usual schtick is to blame it on genetics, environmental factors past and present, trauma, and neurochemical imbalances.  I don’t mean to say that this isn’t true, but it’s not very precise.  The closest we can get to something specific is that we know there is a relationship to the disorder and the metabolism of tetrahydrobiopterin, glutamate, and dopamine.  An abnormal metabolism in these molecules is also found in people suffering with schizophrenia and other types of psychosis as well, so it’s not surprising to find it here as well.

Treatment Modalities

The popular and most effective method for treating schizoaffective disorder at this time is a regimen of antipsychotic medication to take care of the psychosis aspect and a mood stabilizer and/or an antidepressant to handle the drop or fluctuations in mood and emotions.  It’s not clear, but some professionals believe that the antidepressants could possibly be contributing to the psychosis and mania and even increase the mood cycling in the people dealing with the bipolar type.

If it is believed that the individual is a danger to themselves or others, they may be temporarily hospitalized until stabilized.  Psychiatric medication and psychotherapy are critical for recovery.  Vocational training and rehab are said to also be beneficial before returning to the work force.

The Path to Increased Knowledge of the Disorder

Researchers are continuously attempting to unravel the mystery of schizoaffective disorder.  It’s becoming obvious to some that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may have a polar opposite relationship, but that there is also a continuum between the two whereupon a patient may lie.  This type of understanding offers hints to shared causes.  Ultimately, we’d hope to be able to offer each individual a very personalized diagnosis with a specific treatment plan, but the medical community has much work to do before we can refine diagnoses to that level of detail.