What Is Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type?

Updated June 15, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Audrey Kelly, LMFT

Schizoaffective disorder is one of the least understood and lesser-known types of mental illness. Many people assume that schizoaffective disorder is the same thing as schizophrenia. However, this is not the case. While schizoaffective disorder does have similarities to schizophrenia, it is a completely different diagnosis.

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Schizoaffective disorder is a combination of schizophrenic and mood disorder symptoms. The combination of the two types of symptoms means that this disorder is often misdiagnosed. Patients may be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder. However, ongoing care and careful observation of symptoms can lead to the correct diagnosis.

  • What Is Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type

Schizoaffective disorder bipolar type is characterized by some symptoms of schizophrenia and some symptoms of bipolar disorder. With schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, the patient will have some of the symptoms of schizophrenia-like delusions and paranoia, while also having periods of mania. It is extremely difficult to diagnose, because not all symptoms may be present at the same time when the patient seeks help.

  • Differences Between Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type and Other Disorders

There are some distinct differences between schizoaffective disorder bipolar type and bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. While the three disorders can have some similarities making diagnosis difficult, they do have clear differences.

There has been some debate about the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type in the psychiatric community. However, studies have found that this diagnosis is a valid one, and there are definite differences between schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. One study looked at the demographics, clinical features and prognosis of patients with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, bipolar type one with psychotic features, and schizophrenia. They found that schizoaffective disorder bipolar type is most definitely the intermediate point between bipolar disorder type one and schizophrenia.

With bipolar type one with psychotic features, patients may experience periods of mania as well as periods of symptoms of delusions. With schizophrenia, patients may experience delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. Schizophrenia patients often lose touch with reality. With schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, there are periods of mania as well as symptoms of delusions and paranoia.

  • Other Schizoaffective Disorder Types

There are two different types of schizoaffective disorder. The other type is schizoaffective disorder depressive type. This type is very similar to schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, with the difference that there are periods of deep depression rather than mania. Both disorders are frequently treated in many of the same ways.

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It is important to note that just because you have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type does not mean that you don't get depressed. However, you won't go back and forth between diagnoses of the two types. Instead, if you have periods of mania interspersed with periods of depression, you will still have a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type.

  • Diagnosis Of Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type

Diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type can be difficult without ongoing treatment. The doctor must be able to see that a mood disorder coexists with symptoms of schizophrenia. A patient that seeks treatment for schizophrenia symptoms that is not currently in a manic episode may initially be diagnosed as schizophrenic instead.

Some key elements must be present for a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. There must be a period in which symptoms of mania persist in conjunction with symptoms of schizophrenia. This establishes that a diagnosis of schizophrenia is not appropriate.

There must also be a period, at least two weeks, where symptoms of delusions and hallucinations occur in the absence of mania. This establishes that schizoaffective disorder bipolar type is present rather than bipolar type one with psychotic features. Bipolar type one with psychotic features can include delusions and hallucinations, but never without the presence of mania.

Another criterion for the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type is that there are symptoms of a mood disorder for the majority of the duration of the illness. This does not necessarily mean that the patient has mania consistently throughout the illness. There are cycles to mood disorders that show presence even when a major manic episode is not occurring.

Finally, it must be determined that drug abuse or the use of medication is not causing the symptoms of delusions and hallucinations. Sometimes extended drug abuse can produce these symptoms, even for some time after the drug abuse has ended. It must be determined that the symptoms persist even without this influence.

  • Prevalence Of Schizoaffective Disorder

The schizoaffective disorder only affects about .3 percent of the American population. It is a very uncommon mental illness and one that can be difficult to treat. However, some psychiatrists and researchers believe that it may be more prevalent than this. It is often believed that more people have schizoaffective disorder bipolar type who have been misdiagnosed as bipolar type one with psychotic features or schizophrenia because the three mental illnesses are so similar.

  • Causes Of Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type

Little is known about what causes schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. Little is known about what causes mental illness in general. Researchers have been trying to determine exactly what genes or brain abnormalities may constitute a risk or cause for the schizoaffective disorder.

It is believed that genes do play a role. People who have a history of schizoaffective disorder in their families are at higher risk of developing the mental illness themselves. It does tend to run in families, like other mental illnesses. However, exactly what genes are responsible and how that information could be used in treatment or prevention is still unknown.

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It has become clear to researchers that brain function is different in people with schizoaffective disorder than in a healthy brain. However, more research is needed. Brain scans can help determine which areas of the brain are different in a patient with schizoaffective disorder. However, little is understood about brain function in general, and until more research is done, it will be impossible to know what is causing the illness.

People who have a predisposition or risk factors for schizoaffective disorder, such as family history, may start experiencing symptoms after stressful life events. Often a stressful life event is what brings the onset of the illness. However, while that stressful event is the immediate cause, it is not the full picture. Not just anyone with stress in their lives will present with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type.

Finally, use of certain drugs has been linked to schizoaffective disorder. The prolonged use of LSD has been linked by researchers to be a potential cause of this mental illness. Even after the use of the drug has been stopped, if the drug was used for a prolonged period, it could leave the patient with this diagnosis.

Symptoms of Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type

There are some common symptoms that everyone with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type will have. Patients may not have these symptoms all the time, but they will be frequent and concurrent enough that it can make it difficult to function in society.

Hallucinations and delusions are primary symptoms of schizoaffective disorder. Hallucinations are seeing or hearing things that are not there. Delusions are fixed beliefs that can be proven to be false, but continue to be held by the patient.

Another symptom of schizoaffective disorder is disorganized thinking. People with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type may find it very difficult to concentrate or stay on topic. They may quickly switch from one topic to another during conversations, or they may provide answers that are completely unrelated to the topic at hand.

Finally, for schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, there will be periods of mania and depression. Highs and lows characterize these. During mania, they will have racing thoughts, feelings of euphoria, and risky behavior. During lows, they will have crippling depression and feelings of hopelessness.

Treatment of Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type

There are many different treatment options available for schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. Schizoaffective disorder can be difficult to treat because of the dual symptoms that are like both a mood disorder and schizophrenia. All symptoms must be managed effectively. A combination of medications and psychotherapy is generally recommended.

Medications

There are a wide variety of medications that may be helpful in the treatment of schizoaffective disorder with bipolar type. Frequently more than one medication will be prescribed to treat all of the symptoms. Patients may find themselves taking antipsychotics to combat the symptoms of schizophrenia as well as a medication that acts as a mood stabilizer.

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Many different medications are used in the treatment of this disorder, and if you find yourself diagnosed it may take some time to find the right mix of medications to manage all of your symptoms. Be patient with the process, and be open with your doctor about what does and does not work for you.

Some patients do not respond well to medical treatment. It is unknown why some people with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type are resistant to treatment. However, studies have shown that in these situations the medication clozapine has been extremely effective when all other medical treatments fail. Clozapine is an antipsychotic medication that sometimes works better when others fail.

Psychotherapy

Medication alone is not sufficient to treat schizoaffective disorder bipolar type. Psychotherapy is an important part of treatment. While psychotherapy may not be constantly needed, it is an important part of the treatment plan. Your therapist may utilize many different types of psychotherapy, but the most common is cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Getting Help

If you are having symptoms of schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, you should immediately seek treatment with a therapist or psychiatrist. If you have a current diagnosis as bipolar type one or schizophrenia and feel that schizoaffective disorder fits your symptoms more closely, you might want to discuss your feelings and perceptions with a therapist. They can help you learn the correct diagnosis and treatment for your mental health symptoms.


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