Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are mental health disorders that share some common symptoms and treatments. While some people consider them to be two distinct disorders, others believe that schizoaffective disorder is a type of schizophrenia.

The main factor distinguishing schizoaffective disorder from schizophrenia is the presence of a mood component to schizoaffective disorder. This mood component can be manic or depressive.

Some researchers believe schizoaffective disorder is a more severe variant of schizophrenia. Although a person with schizoaffective disorder also has a mood disorder that needs to be evaluated and addressed, the treatments are the same for both conditions.

Estimates indicate that around 0.3% of the U.S. population is living with schizoaffective disorder, and anywhere from 0.25% to 0.64% of the population is living with schizophrenia.

Although both disorders share some similar features and treatments, having a complete diagnosis can help improve a person’s treatment outcomes and quality of life.

This article reviews the similarities and differences between schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia.

a surreal portrait of a woman surrounded by streaming lightsShare on Pinterest
RoxiRosita/Getty Images

While schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia both have their own diagnostic criteria, some researchers think they are two forms of the same condition and have proposed using one single diagnosis.

The main difference between the disorders is that schizoaffective disorder needs to have symptoms of a mood disorder in addition to psychotic symptoms for a doctor to make a diagnosis.

Unlike schizoaffective disorder, a diagnosis of schizophrenia also requires that symptoms be present for at least 6 months since their initial onset.

A person with schizoaffective disorder will typically need treatment for both psychotic symptoms and a mood disorder.

There are several potential causes of schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, but researchers still do not know the exact cause of either condition.

Both schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia may develop due to:

  • Genetics: Both conditions run in families, though a family history of either does not mean a person will inherit the condition.
  • Brain structure and chemistry: The structure of an individual’s brain and how it sends signals may influence the development of either condition.
  • Drug use: LSD use may increase the risk of schizoaffective disorder, while cannabis use may increase the risk of schizophrenia.

Both conditions can present differently in people.

Given the overlap of schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, they can share some common symptoms. These can include:

  • hallucinations: seeing or hearing things that do not exist
  • delusions: holding false or incorrect beliefs despite contradictory evidence

Schizoaffective disorder may also cause symptoms such as:

  • depressed mood
  • manic behavior
  • disorganized thinking

People living with schizophrenia may experience:

  • issues with concentration, memory, or attention
  • loss of motivation and desire to do things they once enjoyed
  • trouble expressing emotions

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia currently have different diagnostic criteria, though many believe schizoaffective disorder is a type of schizophrenia.

Schizoaffective disorder

For a doctor to diagnose schizoaffective disorder, a person must:

  • have symptoms that are not due to misuse of medications or drugs
  • experience delusions or hallucinations without a major mood episode for 2 weeks or more
  • experience a period during which either mania or depression occurs at the same time as hallucinations or delusions
  • have major mood episode symptoms that occur for the majority of the mental health disorder

Schizophrenia

Diagnosing schizophrenia is often difficult, as factors such as drug use can produce similar symptoms. Additionally, people often do not believe they are living with the condition.

No single lab test or diagnostic test can produce an effective diagnosis.

Instead, a doctor will typically monitor a person’s symptoms for at least 6 months. They will also need to rule out other potential causes of behavior changes, such as a brain tumor.

A doctor can typically diagnose schizophrenia when a person displays two or more of the following:

  • hallucinations
  • delusions
  • negative symptoms
  • catatonic or disorganized behavior
  • disorganized speech

Both schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia share similar treatment approaches. A person living with either condition may receive the following treatments:

  • medications to address hallucination and delusions
  • psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or family-focused therapies
  • education about their condition and training on management strategies

A person living with schizoaffective disorder will also need treatment for mood disorders, such as depression. This may include medications such as mood stabilizers or antidepressants.

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia can present challenges to a person living with either disorder. For example, many people with schizophrenia do not realize it affects them.

With treatment, a person and their family should notice symptom improvement in either condition.

Some steps a person can take to help reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life include:

  • following their treatment plans
  • joining a support group
  • taking care of their general well-being, including sleeping on a regular schedule, eating healthy foods, and avoiding alcohol or drug use
  • remaining focused on treatment goals
  • learning about the disorder
  • figuring out warning signs of a return of symptoms
  • looking into social services that may help with housing and employment

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are mental health conditions that share many symptoms and treatments but have their own specific diagnostic criteria.

The main difference between both conditions is the presence of mood disorders in schizoaffective disorder.

With treatment, a person can generally see symptom reduction and improve their quality of life with either condition. However, diagnosis can be a challenge for both conditions.