Study finds link between mental health and increased risk of heart problems

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  • Researchers investigated the link between severe mental illness and heart disease.
  • The study looked at heart-related deaths over decades in high-income countries.
  • People with schizophrenia had a higher risk of dying from heart disease than people with bipolar disorder.

A new study has found that people with severe mental illness have increased levels of heat-related deaths, and that the trend has increased in recent decades.

The study published in PLOS investigates the association between severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and CVD-related mortality.

The researchers extracted data from 108 previous studies, including over 30 million participants from high-income countries, aged from 16 to 65 years of age, and suffering from psychiatric disorders at the outset of the studies.

The study included people from Western Europe, Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, and also considered the differences between high-, low- and middle-income countries in the diagnosis, prevalence, treatment, and prognosis of severe mental illness.

Role of smoking and antipsychotics

The study found that the cardiovascular-related mortality rate for people with severe mental illness was about double that of the general population. The researchers also found that the link between severe mental illness and cardiovascular disease became stronger in the 1990s and 2000s.

Another interesting finding was that people with schizophrenia have a higher risk of dying of heart disease than those with bipolar disorder. There was, however, a consistent relationship between severe mental illness and increased incidence of stroke, heart disease, and heart failure.

The researchers note that the relative risk of heart diseases diagnosis in more recent decades may be connected to a disparity in smoking prevalence between people with severe mental illness and the general population, and the increased use of antipsychotics. 

“Deaths from CVD make a large contribution to the inequalities in life expectancy experienced by those with severe mental illness. This result highlights the need for targeted interventions to improve the CVD health of people with severe mental illness. A better mechanistic understanding of the reasons for the higher mortality rates would enable identification of where inequalities could be reduced.

"More research is needed to explore the role of smoking, obesity, antipsychotic medication, and access as well as adherence to CVD treatments for the excess cardiovascular mortality,” the authors wrote.

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