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New research has discovered that young people with serious mental illnesses are prone to heart diseases. The mental illnesses include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder. These disorders increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases up to two times that of people living without these illnesses.
We have established the relationship between heart diseases and mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Notably, those risks increase with age. However, this latest research goes beyond that, showing how heart disease risk increases in younger adults living with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder.
Previous studies indicate that people with serious psychiatric disorders die about 10-25 years earlier than healthy people. Cardiovascular diseases appear to be their leading cause of death. Notably, most of the past studies only looked at people who were hospitalized, and they typically had very severe health conditions. This latest research focused on a large sample of outpatients (almost 600,000 US adults), as these are often neglected in analyses. It was also the first study to examine the relationship between cardiovascular disease risks and these three serious mental illnesses, namely bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder.
The research examined health records from 2016 to 2018 of 591,257 outpatients aged 18-75. About 11,000 of them had one serious mental illness or the other. Out of that number, 70% were living with bipolar disorder, 18% with schizoaffective disorder, and 12% with schizophrenia.
The researchers used different prediction models, such as the 10-year cardiovascular disease risk, atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk scoring tool, etc., for varying age ranges. (10-year CVD risk refers to a person's chances of developing heart disease within the next ten years. Lower percentages indicate lower risks.)
Adults in the study with one of the three mental disorders had a higher 10-year CVD risk level than adults without a mental health challenge.
Their 30-year CVD risk level was more than two times higher than in people without a serious mental illness.
The increased risk of cardiovascular diseases was present even in young people aged 18-34.
People with bipolar disorder had the highest 10-year CVD risk, while those with schizoaffective disorder had the highest 30-year risk.
Those with a serious mental illness were more likely to be smokers and obese than their mentally healthy counterparts. Hence, these physical conditions significantly contributed to their risk factors.
People with serious mental illnesses had higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than those without serious psychiatric conditions.
We now know that even young adults are at a high risk of cardiovascular disease (and death) as long as they live with a serious mental illness. But what can we do?
The best step is to identify these mental illnesses early and begin intervention as quickly as possible. Ten years isn't such a long time. And heart diseases are incurable, so once they develop, it can be a lifetime of misery coupled with mental illness.
Young people also have a role to play. They would need to be more open about their mental challenges so that diagnosis can be made early enough for intervention to commence. This can help save a lot of lives.
If you're battling any mental health challenge, we can help.