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Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia

Learn about the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder vs schizophrenia and how to get help at Iris Healing®.

Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia

Article Contents

Overview of Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are both mental health conditions characterized by psychosis, hallucinations, and delusions. But there are some critical differences between the two, so understanding them independently is essential to distinguish between these two conditions properly.

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain condition that usually begins in young adulthood. It is characterized by psychological symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, and behavior.1  On the other hand, schizoaffective disorder is a condition that affects a person’s thinking and emotions. Schizoaffective disorder manifests as a combination of the symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder, either depression or bipolar disorder. In addition, schizoaffective disorder affects about 2% of the population of the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).2

Understanding the Difference

When carefully debating schizophrenia vs schizoaffective disorder, the difference lies in the fact that in schizoaffective disorder, there are periods where the individual experiences symptoms of both major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder (BP). In addition, there are also multiple types of schizoaffective disorders, such as the bipolar type, depressive type, and maniac type.

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder and Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia vs schizoaffective disorder differ from each other on several levels, including emotionally, behaviorally, and physically. For example, individuals with schizoaffective disorder exhibit mood symptoms, such as depression, mania, and many others. However, people exhibiting only schizophrenia mood disorder symptoms do not tend to display mood-related signs in general, and more so experience physical symptoms.3

The symptoms of both conditions will be detailed below.

Schizophrenia Symptoms

Schizophrenia looks different in everyone who has it, meaning that not all of these symptoms will appear in everyone. Some of these might be more pronounced in some patients as well, or could happen over a long period of time. 

Some of the common symptoms of schizophrenia include:
  • Isolating oneself from others
  • Changes in concentration
  • Changes in social groups
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Trouble with school
  • Schizoaffective Disorder Symptoms

    There are various types of schizoaffective disorder, but their symptoms majorly manifest as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thinking
  • Depressed mood
  • Manic behavior
  • What Are the Causes of Schizoaffective and Schizophrenia Disorder?

    Causative agents for mental health illnesses are often unknown and tricky to spot. These causes are often linked to genetic predisposition and intense childhood trauma, among a few others. Here are the main causes of schizophrenia vs schizoaffective disorder:

    Schizoaffective Causes

    Schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness that includes symptoms of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. The exact cause of the schizoaffective disorder is unknown. However, it’s likely caused by multiple factors, including genetics, lifestyle choices, environmental pressures, and other factors.4

    Schizophrenia Causes

    The causes of schizophrenia spectrum disorders are complex and not fully understood. Researchers believe it may be caused by genetics, brain chemistry distortion, and the environment. It has also been linked to childhood trauma or abuse. A schizophrenia diagnosis might also stem from sensory overload.

    The relationship between schizophrenia and sensory issues can be challenging to understand. A person with an extreme sensitivity to certain sensory stimuli might develop schizophrenia. In clinically diagnosed patients, schizophrenia and sensory issues should be monitored.5

    Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia Diagnosis

    A patient must meet specific criteria to ascertain if an individual has schizophrenia vs schizoaffective disorder. The difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder is also visible in their diagnostic process. The differential diagnosis for schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder is seen to be:

    Schizophrenia Diagnostic Criteria

    A schizophrenia differential diagnosis is usually made with a schizoaffective disorder test. A positive result is if an individual has had two or more episodes of psychosis that have lasted for at least one week. These psychotic episodes may include hallucinations or delusions.

    Other schizophrenia differential diagnosis factors according to DSM-5 include:6

    • The individual displays at least two standard symptoms
    • The duration of the symptoms lasts at least one week every time
    • Occupational, social, and personal life dysfunction

    The borderline schizophrenia test is also another tool for diagnosing schizophrenia.
    It entails a series of questions that help individuals understand the nature of their mental state.

    Schizoaffective Disorder Diagnostic Criteria

    To be diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, the affected individual must meet the following schizoaffective disorder test criteria:

    • At least one manic or mixed episode lasting for at least one week, and that it is present during the same period as a depressive episode
    • At least two symptoms occurring together from the following group also serve as schizoaffective disorder diagnostic criteria: delusions of persecutory thoughts, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized behavior, and feelings of paranoia or suspicion.

    How Is Schizoaffective Disorder Treated?

    After the schizoaffective disorder diagnostic criteria has been met, and a borderline schizophrenia test is conclusive, treatment can then begin. The treatment for schizoaffective disorder depends on the severity of the symptoms and can include medications, psychotherapy, and other self-help tips.


    Medications can help suppress the symptoms of schizoaffective cognitive impairment. They may be used alone or with other medicines and psychosocial interventions. Medications for schizoaffective disorder include:

    • Mood Stabilizers: Mood stabilizers include lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine. Along with other antipsychotic drugs, mood stabilizers can help reduce the severity of psychotic symptoms.
    • Antidepressants: Antidepressants may be used to treat depression-based symptoms in schizoaffective disorder. These medications can also help reduce other symptoms of the condition, such as hallucinations and delusions. Examples of antidepressants include fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, and paroxetine.
    • Antipsychotic Medications: These drugs block dopamine receptors in the brain, which helps reduce psychotic symptoms such as disordered thoughts, delusions, and hallucinations. They are used principally in the treatment of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. They are also used in managing and treating other psychotic conditions. Examples of antipsychotics include olanzapine, risperidone, aripiprazole, and quetiapine.


    Therapy can help people with schizoaffective disorder learn how to cope with their condition and understand it better through schizoaffective disorder psychotherapy.

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT teaches how to change the thoughts and behaviors behind the symptoms. CBT also teaches individuals to avoid behaviors that may cause schizoaffective episodes while instilling proper healthy coping mechanisms.
    • Family-Focused Therapy: This helps each person in the family understand their role in supporting recovery. This form of treatment is highly essential to help strengthen the family support structure around the patient.

    Self-Management Strategies and Education

    Self-care strategies involve a conscious effort to nurture the body and mind regularly while living with schizoaffective disorder. They include:

    • Getting enough sleep
    • Eating healthy meals at regular intervals
    • Taking time out for relaxing activities (such as exercise or meditation)
    • Following up on therapy and ensuring all medication is taken at the right time

    How Is Schizophrenia Treated?

    There are many similar ways to treat schizophrenia as one would treat schizoaffective disorder, but treatment differs in a few ways, which are outlined below. 

    First-Generation (Typical) Antipsychotics

    These drugs help schizophrenia affective disorder patients by reducing psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions by blocking dopamine receptors in the brain. Examples include haloperidol and chlorpromazine.

    Second-Generation (Atypical) Antipsychotics

    These atypical drugs are more effective than first-generation drugs at helping with positive and negative symptoms. They’re also less likely than typical to cause serious side effects such as tardive dyskinesia.


    Psychotherapy is a talking therapy used to treat people with schizophrenia affective disorder. There are two main types of psychotherapy:

    • Supportive: This form of therapy focuses on helping people adjust to their medical condition, manage symptoms, and improve their overall quality of life
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy helps people with schizophrenia identify and change negative thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors that contribute to their symptoms.

    Psychosocial Treatments

    Psychosocial treatments are the mainstay of treatment for schizophrenia. They include;

    • Peer Support Groups: These gatherings are made up of individuals who have a history of schizophrenia or a close relationship with anyone with the condition. These groups help provide purpose, care, support, and willpower to cope with treatment challenges as they come.
    • Assertive Community Treatment: This is a multidisciplinary treatment aimed at individuals with severe mental illness. ACT helps manage patients and prevent hospitalizations through well-researched guidelines for care.

    How Are Schizoaffective Disorder and Schizophrenia Similar?

    Irrespective of their differences, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are both mental illnesses. These health conditions also share similar symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders, and disorganized speech. Also, schizoaffective disorder is similar to schizophrenia because both conditions share common genetic risk factors. Both disorders are also treated with similar medications to manage their symptoms.

    Overall, in both condition there are:7

    • Presence of positive and negative symptoms
    • Cognitive impairment
    • Psychotic symptoms

    What’s the Outlook for People with Schizoaffective Disorder or Schizophrenia?

    The outlook for people with schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia depends on age and the severity of their symptoms.8

    Outlook for Schizoaffective Disorder

    The outlook for people with schizoaffective disorder varies. Many people recover and have normal lives while being managed. Still, some may have repeated episodes of illness and require long-term treatment.

    Coping skills for schizoaffective disorder help individuals live a fuller life by improving their moods, relationships, and overall health. To aid early management and treatment, people with schizoaffective disorder genetic risk factors should be monitored closely.

    Outlook for Schizophrenia

    The outlook for people with schizophrenia is better than it was years ago. More than half of those who get treatment can lead productive lives. While there is no cure for schizophrenia, it can be appropriately managed to reduce symptoms to as minimal as possible.

    As a result, many people with the disorder can lead productive lives, working and raising families. Irrespective of a differential diagnosis for schizophrenia.

    Get Help for Schizoaffective Disorder or Schizophrenia at Iris Healing®

    Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia

    The key difference between schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder is that people with schizoaffective disorder also have schizophrenia and mood disorder-related symptoms. However, Iris Healing® clinicians can treat both conditions’ symptoms with medication, psychotherapy, self-management strategies, and education.  

    With help from Iris Healing®, individuals with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder can learn to manage their symptoms, cope with life’s challenges, and live fulfilling lives. In addition, we have medical experts who have dedicated their lives to patient care and ensuring that each person gets the best treatment possible. We will be with you or your loved one every step of the way during treatment and other avenues of coping with the disorders. 

    Opportunities for Wellness and a Deeper Understanding

    For more information on schizoaffective disorder vs schizophrenia, please reach out to us at Iris Healing® today. We can help you and your family figure out how to navigate the sometimes difficult avenues of dealing with schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia.

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