Bipolar Disorder vs. Schizoaffective Disorder
Some people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have also been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Others have been diagnosed simply with schizoaffective disorder. You may be wondering, "What is the difference between bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder?" Schizoaffective Disorder is defined as "the presence of psychotic symptoms in the absence of mood changes for at least two weeks in a patient who has a mood disorder." This diagnosis is used when the person does not fit diagnostic criteria for either schizophrenia or "affective" (mood) disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. In layman's terms, it is a "cross" between the two disorders. In other words, some people may have symptoms of both a depressive disorder and schizophrenia at the same time, or they may have symptoms of schizophrenia without mood symptoms. Many individuals with schizoaffective disorder were originally diagnosed with depression; however, if they experience delusions or hallucinations that go away in less than two weeks when the mood is "normal," bipolar disorder may be the proper diagnosis. If the person experiences these psychotic symptoms for 3-4 weeks while in a manic phase, they do not have schizoaffective disorder. On the other hand, a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder is more appropriate if the psychotic symptoms continue after the person's mood has stabilized and are accompanied by other symptoms of schizophrenia such as catatonia, paranoia, bizarre behavior, or thought disorders. Because schizoaffective disorder is so complicated, misdiagnosis is common. Some people may be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia. Others may be misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. And those diagnosed as having schizoaffective disorder may actually have schizophrenia with prominent mood symptoms or a mood disorder with symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia. As a practical matter, differentiating between schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder is not absolutely critical, since antipsychotic medication is recommended for all three. The prognosis for individuals diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder is generally better than for those diagnosed with schizophrenia, but not quite as good for those diagnosed with a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder. Since schizoaffective disorder is a relatively new diagnosis, more research is needed to fully understand this illness.
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