Schizoaffective disorder is a rarer type of mental illness. It’s characterized by symptoms of both schizophrenia and symptoms of a mood disorder. This includes mania or depression.

The two types of schizoaffective disorder are bipolar and depressive.

Episodes of mania occur in the bipolar type. During a manic episode, you may alternate between feeling overly excited to feeling extremely irritable. You may or may not experience depressive episodes.

People who have the depressive type experience episodes of depression.

Schizoaffective disorder affects 0.3 percent of people in the United States. This disorder affects men and women equally, however, men may develop the disorder earlier in life. With proper treatment and care, this disorder can be effectively managed.

Your symptoms will depend on the mood disorder. They can vary from mild to severe and may also vary depending on the person experiencing them.

Doctors typically categorize symptoms as either manic or psychotic.

Manic symptoms are like those seen in bipolar disorder. A person with manic symptoms may appear hyperactive or overly restless, talk very fast, and sleep very little.

Doctors may refer to your symptoms as positive or negative, but this doesn’t mean “good” or “bad.”

Psychotic symptoms are similar to those of schizophrenia. This may include positive symptoms, such as:

Negative symptoms can occur when something seems to be missing, such as the ability to experience pleasure or the ability to think clearly or concentrate.

It isn’t clear what causes schizoaffective disorder. The disorder typically runs in families, so genetics may play a role. You aren’t guaranteed to develop the disorder if a family member has it, but you do have an increased risk.

Birth complications or exposure to toxins or viruses before birth may also contribute to the development of this disorder. People may also develop schizoaffective disorder as a result of certain chemical changes in the brain.

It can be difficult to diagnose schizoaffective disorder because it has many of the same symptoms as other conditions. These symptoms can appear at different times. They can also appear in different combinations.

When diagnosing this type of schizoaffective disorder, doctors will look for:

  • major manic symptoms that occur along with psychotic symptoms
  • psychotic symptoms that last at least two weeks, even when the mood symptoms are under control
  • a mood disorder that’s present for most of the course of the illness

Blood or laboratory tests can’t help your doctor diagnose schizoaffective disorder. Your doctor may do certain tests to rule out other diseases or conditions that can cause some of the same symptoms. This includes substance abuse or epilepsy.

People with the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder usually respond well to a combination of medications. Psychotherapy or counseling may also help to improve quality of life.

Medications

Medications can help relieve the psychotic symptoms and stabilize the ups and downs of bipolar mood swings.

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics control the schizophrenia-like symptoms. This includes hallucinations and delusions. Paliperidone (Invega) is the only drug the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved specifically for schizoaffective disorder. However, doctors can still use medications off-label to treat these symptoms.

Similar drugs include:

Mood stabilizers

Mood stabilizers like lithium can level out the highs and lows of bipolar symptoms. You should be aware that you may need to take the mood stabilizers for several weeks or so before they become effective. Antipsychotics work much quicker to control symptoms. So, it isn’t uncommon to use mood stabilizers and antipsychotics together.

Other drugs

Certain drugs for treating seizures can also treat these symptoms. This includes carbamazepine and valproate.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help people with schizoaffective disorder to:

  • solve problems
  • form relationships
  • learn new behaviors
  • learn new skills

Talk therapy can generally help you manage your life and your thoughts.

You can get one-on-one therapy with a psychologist, counselor, or another therapist, or you can go to group therapy. Group support can reinforce new skills and allow you to connect with other people who share your concerns.

Although schizoaffective disorder isn’t curable, many treatments can help you effectively manage your condition. It’s possible to manage the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and have a better quality of life. Follow these tips:

Get help

Medication can help your symptoms, but you need encouragement and support to function well. Help is available for you, your family, and your friends.

One of the first steps is to learn as much as you can about the disorder. It’s important that you or your loved one gets the right diagnosis and treatment.

These organizations can help you learn more about schizoaffective disorder, keep up with new research and treatments, and find local support:

Mental Health America (MHA)

MHA is a national nonprofit advocacy group with over 200 affiliates throughout the country. Its website has more information about schizoaffective disorder, as well as links to resources and support in local communities.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI is a large grassroots organization that offers more details about mental illnesses, including schizoaffective disorder. NAMI can help you find resources in your local community. The organization also has a toll-free helpline. Call 800-950-NAMI (6264) for referrals, information, and support.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

The NIMH is a leading agency for research on mental illnesses. It offers information about:

  • medications
  • therapies
  • links for finding mental health services
  • links for participating in clinical research trials

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or someone you know is in crisis, at risk for self-harm or hurting others, or considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Calls are free, confidential, and they’re available 24/7.

Be patient

Although antipsychotic medications usually work very quickly, drugs for mood disorders can often take several weeks before producing visible results. If you’re worried about this in-between period, discuss solutions with your doctor.

Talk to your doctor

Always talk to your doctor about your treatment plan and options. Be sure to discuss with them:

  • any side effects you’re experiencing
  • if a medication you’re taking isn’t having an effect

A simple switch in medications or dosages may make a difference. Working closely with them can keep your condition managed.