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How can a doctor tell if someone has schizoaffective disorder?

Dr. Cynthia Washington
Family Medicine

A medical or mental health doctor can assess an individual for symptoms of schizoaffective disorder.  Symptoms may appear different in each individual due to the potential for mood disturbances, as well as psychotic behavior occurring at the same time.  These symptoms may occur in cycles alternating from severe behavior followed by a period of improvement.  Mood disturbances may consist of depression, bipolar disorder, sudden increase in energy level, irritability, and poor temper control.  Psychotic behavior may consist of hallucinations (hearing voices), delusions (false beliefs), paranoid thoughts, and disorganized thinking processes.  In addition, individuals may experience sleeping problems, attention and memory problems, and changes in appetite, lack of interest in personal hygiene or physical appearance, and experience thoughts of homicide or suicide.

A doctor will suspect that an individual has schizoaffective disorder if they experience delusions or hallucinations for at least two weeks regardless of mood symptoms being under control.  If you feel that you, or anyone you know is experiencing symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, please contact a doctor, mental health organization or emergency care.  If you experience thoughts of suicide or homicide, please go to the nearest emergency department for help.  

Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
When a person has symptoms of schizophrenia and symptoms of a mood disorder like depression or mania, a doctor may evaluate her further for schizoaffective disorder. Schizoaffective disorder is different from schizophrenia, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder, although symptoms from each of these illnesses may be present.

If someone has schizoaffective disorder, she will often have some of the psychotic features of schizophrenia such as hallucinations, delusions or disorganized thinking. Yet, her mood symptoms, like depression or mania, are also pronounced. Schizoaffective disorder may appear as a cyclical illness, which means the mood symptoms and psychotic features may come and go.

Other symptoms of schizoaffective disorder that might lead a doctor to evaluate someone further for schizoaffective disorder include:

• Irritability
• Suicidal ideas
• Agitation
• Memory problems
• Poor hygiene
• Trouble sleeping

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.