Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Schizoaffective Disorder

If you or your loved one are struggling with schizoaffective disorder, Vermilion is here to help. Learning about schizoaffective disorder can help you or your loved one manage its symptoms.

Understanding Schizoaffective Disorder

Learn about schizoaffective disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is an appropriate diagnosis for someone who experiences psychotic symptoms in addition to mood disturbances. Often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder due to similar symptoms present, schizoaffective disorder involves delusions or hallucinations and depression or mania. Psychotic symptoms must occur in the absence of mood disturbances and the depression or mania must be pervasive throughout the duration of the illness.

Sufferers of schizoaffective disorder may experience a great deal of dysfunction in their lives which can sometimes lead to a decreased life expectancy. Coping with mood disturbances is difficult enough for a person, but adding on the additional distress of living with uncontrollable delusions or hallucinations can cause a great deal of turmoil within an individual. Even attempting to complete the most mundane of tasks could prove exceedingly difficult in comparison to a person who is not experiencing symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.

When seeking treatment to alleviate symptoms, it is important to inform the mental health professional of all symptoms present. Untreated mood disturbances and psychotic symptoms can wreak havoc on a person’s life and ability to function normally. Reporting full history of symptoms and changes in functioning is imperative in making an accurate diagnosis and receiving appropriate and effective treatment for schizoaffective disorder.  


Schizoaffective disorder statistics

The prevalence of schizoaffective disorder, while not as high as schizophrenia, is said to be .03% of the population. Of that percentage, more women are affected than men. And due to the distress caused by the symptoms, those with schizoaffective disorder have a 5% chance of attempting suicide in their lifetime.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizoaffective disorder

Experts agree that there are a number of factors that play into an eventual diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Since there has not been a single identifiable cause of schizoaffective disorder, one must consider the following as an explanation for schizoaffective disorder’s origins:

Genetic: A person with a family history including a psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder itself, has a greater likelihood of receiving a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. Being that family history is a consideration, experts agree that schizoaffective disorder does in fact have a genetic component.

Physical: Through the use of neuroimaging, it has been found that people with schizoaffective disorder have a decreased brain volume than those without the disorder. Additionally, if the part of the brain that controls a person’s development is damaged in any way, there is an increased risk for developing schizoaffective disorder.

Environmental: Research has found that complications during birth, resulting in damage to the brain, could increase a person’s chance of developing schizoaffective disorder. Moreover, it has been realized that pre-birth exposure to viruses or other chemical toxins could also render a person vulnerable to eventually showing symptoms associated with the disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of psychotic or bipolar disorder
  • Preexisting mental illness
  • Complications during birth
  • Exposure to viruses or toxins while in utero
  • Substance use
  • History of trauma or abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizoaffective disorder

Because a number of symptoms associated with schizoaffective disorder resemble those in other mental disorders, an accurate diagnosis is key. Recognizing all of the signs and symptoms present is integral in making the right diagnosis, thus leading to the application of correct treatment modalities. Below are some signs and symptoms that are often present in a person suffering from schizoaffective disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Impairment in social situations
  • Decreased work performance
  • Disordered behaviors
  • Catatonia
  • Mutism
  • Self-injury
  • Attempts at suicide

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Flat affect
  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Changes in eating
  • Disrupted sleep

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lack of insight
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of focus
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Memory problems
  • Racing thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Decrease in quality of interpersonal relationships
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Financial difficulties
  • Development of other mental illnesses
  • Self-injury
  • Death


Effects of schizoaffective disorder

The symptoms of schizoaffective disorder can have adverse effects on a person’s life if the disorder goes without treatment. Appropriate treatment is also key to reducing these effects. Some examples of potential effects are:

  • Development of another mental illness
  • Problems in interpersonal relationships
  • Financial strife
  • Substance use
  • Self-injury
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizoaffective disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is possible that someone with schizoaffective disorder can experience symptoms associated with another mental illness. Other disorders that can occur alongside schizoaffective disorder are:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder