Schizoaffective Disorder vs Schizophrenia: Similarities and Differences

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are mental health disorders that share some common symptoms and treatments. While some people think of them as two separate disorders, others think that schizoaffective disorder is a type of schizophrenia.

The main factor The distinction between schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia is the presence of a mood component in schizoaffective disorder. This component of mood can be manic or depressed.

Some researchers believe that 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 treated, treatments are the same for both conditions.

Estimates indicate that approximately 0.3% of the US population lives with schizoaffective disorder, and anywhere 0.25% to 0.64% of the population lives with schizophrenia.

Although the two disorders share similar characteristics and treatments, a comprehensive diagnosis can help improve treatment outcomes and a person’s quality of life.

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

Although 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 a single diagnosis.

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

Unlike schizoaffective disorder, a diagnosis of schizophrenia also requires the presence of symptoms for at least 6 months since their initial appearance.

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

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

Both schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia can develop due to:

  • Genetic: Both conditions are hereditary, although a family history of either does not mean a person will inherit the condition.
  • Structure and chemistry of the brain: The structure of an individual’s brain and the way it sends signals can 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.

The two conditions can present differently in people.

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

  • hallucinations: see or hear things that are not there
  • delusions: having false or incorrect beliefs despite conflicting evidence

Schizoaffective disorder can also cause symptoms such as:

  • depressed mood
  • manic behavior
  • disorganized thinking

People living with schizophrenia can experience:

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

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia currently have different diagnostic criteria, although many believe schizoaffective disorder to be a type of schizophrenia.

Schizoaffective disorder

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

  • have symptoms that are not due to misuse of medication or drugs
  • having delusions or hallucinations without a major mood episode for 2 weeks or more
  • experience a period in which mania or depression occurs alongside hallucinations or delusions
  • have symptoms of major mood swings that occur for the majority of mental health disorders


Diagnosing schizophrenia is often difficult because factors such as drug use can produce similar symptoms. Also, people often don’t believe they are living with the disease.

No laboratory test or diagnostic test can produce an effective diagnosis.

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

A doctor can usually diagnose schizophrenia when a person has at least two of the Next:

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

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia share similar treatment approaches. A person living with either of these conditions may receive the following treatments:

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

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

Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia can present challenges for someone living with either disorder. For example, many people with schizophrenia don’t realize it affects them.

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

A few footsteps from a person can take to help reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life include:

  • follow their treatment plans
  • join a support group
  • take care of their general well-being, including sleeping on a regular schedule, eating healthy foods, and avoiding the use of alcohol or drugs
  • stay focused on treatment goals
  • find out about the disorder
  • identify the warning signs of a return of symptoms
  • research social services that can 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 the two conditions is the presence of mood disorders in schizoaffective disorder.

With treatment, a person can usually see a reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life with either condition. However, diagnosis can be a challenge for both conditions.

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