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Schizoaffective Disorder

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2022.

What is schizoaffective disorder?

Schizoaffective disorder is a long-term mental illness that may change how you think, feel, and act around others. Schizoaffective disorder involves both psychosis (loss of reality), along with depression or mania. You may not know what is real and what is not real.

What causes schizoaffective disorder?

The cause of schizoaffective disorder in not known. It is thought there may be an imbalance in chemicals that help control movement, thought, and mood.

What increases my risk of schizoaffective disorder?

  • You are female.
  • You were born during the winter months.
  • You had psychological stress from abuse, disaster, or major life change.
  • Your brain did not develop normally before you were born.
  • You have a family member with schizophrenia, a mood disorder, or schizoaffective disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder?

  • Delusions: These are false ideas. You may believe that someone is spying on you, or that you are someone famous.
  • Hallucinations: You see, feel, taste, hear, or smell something that is not real.
  • Disordered thinking and speech: When you talk, you move from one subject to another in a way that does not make sense. You may make up your own words or sounds.
  • Negative symptoms: These include lack of expression, eye contact, and words. You may not be able to start and continue a planned activity. You may have little interest in work or social activities.
  • Depression: You are depressed most of the day or nearly every day. You may lose or gain weight, or have trouble sleeping or concentrating. There may be feeling of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
  • Manic behavior: These are periods of increased self-esteem and energy with little to no sleep. You may talk more than usual. You may have racing thoughts or be easily distracted. You may have more interest in social activities.

How is schizoaffective disorder diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will perform a psychiatric assessment. He will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. He will ask if you were given the care that you needed when you needed it. He will ask if you have a history of alcohol or drug abuse. Your healthcare provider will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. He will also ask about your hobbies and goals, the people in your life who support you, and how you feel about treatment. The answers to these questions help healthcare providers plan your treatment.

Which medicines are used to treat schizoaffective disorder?

  • Antipsychotics: These help decrease psychotic symptoms or severe agitation. You may need antiparkinson medicine to control muscle stiffness, twitches, and restlessness caused by antipsychotic medicines.
  • Anxiety medicine may help you feel calm and relaxed.
  • Antidepressants: These help decrease or stop the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and behavior problems.
  • Mood stabilizers: These control mood swings.
  • Anticonvulsants: These control seizures, decrease violent behavior, and control mood swings.
  • Blood pressure medicines: These may be used to help decrease motor tics (uncontrolled movements). They may also help you feel calmer, more focused, and less irritable.
  • Anticholinergics: This decreases the side effects of other medicines.

Which therapies are used to treat schizoaffective disorder?

  • Assertive community treatment: A team of healthcare providers and support groups in your community help you with your therapy.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy: This therapy helps you to change certain behaviors. It will help you handle symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. It can help you learn how to get along with others, and help you cope with and handle your disease.
  • Compliance therapy: This is a therapy to help find ways to make it easier for you to take your medicines and get treatment.
  • Counseling: This helps you learn self-care, how to decrease your symptoms, and prevent them from coming back.
  • Family intervention: This program lets your family be part of your therapy.
  • Skills training: This training helps you learn how to get along with other people. You will also learn how to do everyday activities and skills you need to live on your own.
  • Supported employment: This is a form of therapy where you are placed into a job that fits your skills. It will help give you independence and self-confidence.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy: This is a type of shock therapy, also called ECT. This therapy passes a small amount of electricity through the brain.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I help manage schizoaffective disorder?

The following may help you feel better or prevent symptoms of schizoaffective disorder from coming back:

  • Find support for yourself and your family: Talk with others to help you cope with your illness better. This may also help to improve how you relate to others.
  • Keep all medical appointments: This will help manage your disease and the side-effects from medicines you may be taking.
  • Take your medicines as directed: Put your medicines in a pillbox placed in an area you can easily see. Use a watch with an alarm to help you remember when it is time to take your medicine. Tell your healthcare provider if you know or think you might be pregnant because your medication could affect the baby. Do not stop taking your medicines without your healthcare provider's okay. A sudden stop can cause serious medical problems.
  • Watch for early signs of a relapse and seek help immediately:
    • How you think, feel, and see things has changed.
    • You start to behave differently, or others tell you they notice a change.
    • You become more nervous and upset, but do not know why.
    • You eat less or have trouble sleeping.
    • You have little or no interest in friends or activities.

What are the risks of schizoaffective disorder?

Even with treatment, your symptoms may come back or not go away. If schizoaffective disorder is left untreated, your condition may get worse. It may affect the way you think of yourself and how you get along with others. Your condition may make it hard for you to do your normal activities. You may be at increased risk for diabetes and heart and lung disease. Your risk for alcohol or drug abuse increases. You may have thoughts of hurting or killing yourself or others.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Psychiatric Association
    1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825
    Arlington , VA 22209
    Phone: 1- 703 - 907-7300
    Phone: 1- 888 - 357-7924
    Web Address:
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
    6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, MSC 9663
    Bethesda , MD 20892-9663
    Phone: 1- 301 - 443-4513
    Phone: 1- 866 - 615-6464
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You think you are having a relapse.
  • You are having side effects from your medicines, or they are not helping.
  • You are not sleeping well or are sleeping more than usual.
  • You cannot eat or are eating more than usual.
  • You have muscle spasms, stiffness, or trouble walking.
  • Your sad feelings or thoughts change the way you function during the day.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You feel like hurting or killing yourself or others.
  • You feel that your condition is getting worse.
  • You feel very upset, threaten someone, or feel violent.
  • You suddenly have changes in your vision.
  • You suddenly have chest pain, trouble breathing, or a fever.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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