Schizoaffective Disorder

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Coping With Schizophrenia

Quick GuideSchizophrenia Pictures Slideshow: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Schizophrenia Pictures Slideshow: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

How do health-care professionals diagnose schizoaffective disorder?

To diagnose schizoaffective disorder, one first has to rule out any medical condition that may be the actual cause or contributing factor for the mood and behavioral changes. Once medical causes have been looked for and not found, a mental illness such as schizoaffective disorder could be considered. The diagnosis will best be made by a licensed mental-health professional, like a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, psychiatric nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician's assistant, who can evaluate the patient and carefully sort through a variety of mental illnesses that might look similarly upon the initial examination. Such illnesses include any other thought disorder, like schizophrenia spectrum disorders, including schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder, as well as any disorder in which both mood symptoms and psychosis may occur or appear to occur, like borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, or major depression with psychotic features.

The mental-health professional will examine someone in whom schizoaffective disorder is suspected either in an office or in the emergency department. The practitioner's role is to ensure that the patient doesn't have any medical problems, including active drug use or exposure to environmental toxins, since symptoms of those conditions can mimic the thought disorder and mood swings of schizoaffective disorder. The health-care professional takes the patient's history and performs a physical examination. Laboratory and other tests, sometimes including a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the brain, are performed. Physical findings can relate to the symptoms associated with schizoaffective disorder or to the medications the person may be taking.

What are criteria for diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder?

According to the newly released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), in order to be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an individual must meet the following diagnostic criteria:

  • An uninterrupted period of illness that includes either a major depressive disorder or a manic episode along with at least two active symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, severely disorganized or catatonic behaviors, negative symptoms like decreased emotional expression or movement)
  • Delusions (for example, paranoia, erotomania, grandiosity, delusional jealousy, persecutory or somatic delusions) or hallucinations occur for at least two weeks without major depressive or manic symptoms at some time during the illness.
  • The major mood symptoms occur for most of the duration of the illness.
  • The illness is not the result of a medical condition or the effects of alcohol, other drugs of abuse, a medication or exposure to an environmental toxin.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/2/2016

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