Past studies have demonstrated that psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and psychotic disorders are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. Now, new research finds that a wider range of mental disorders can lead to poor heart health.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Southampton in the UK, along with colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, found that men with mental disorders have a higher risk of developing CHD. The findings were published in the journal Circulation.
Coronary heart disease (CHD), also known as coronary artery disease, is caused by the plaque build-up in the arteries leading to the heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 600,000 people die of heart disease in the US annually, and it is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
For years, CHD prevention has focused on modifying conventional risk factors such as cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. However, an escalating body of research now provides strong evidence that at least some of the incidence of CHD — estimates range from 10 to 30 percent –may be attributed to the adverse effects of psychosocial stressors.
The team behind this latest study evaluated over 1 million Swedish men who were born between 1950 and 1976, using data from the Swedish Cause of Death Register and the Country’s National Hospital Discharge Register. All of the men had previously undergone psychiatric and medical assessments for the military — the average age of conscription was 18.3 — and they were subsequently followed-up for nearly 22 years.
Wider range of mental disorders linked to heart disease risk risk
The researchers found an increased risk of developing heart disease in men who were diagnosed with mental disorders around the age of 18, as well as in those who were later admitted to the hospital for psychiatric disorders. Specifically, they identified an increased risk for CHD across a wide range of mental conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, neurotic disorders, personality disorders and substance-use disorders.
The findings, say the investigators, show that the association between mental disorders and CHD is not limited to a few disorders or even to those individuals whose disorder is severe. Although the researchers took other factors into account, such as smoking habits, alcohol consumption, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity levels, intelligence and socioeconomic status, they found that these factors did not “significantly influence any link.”
“Our findings suggest that mental disorders pose a huge public health burden in terms of premature illness and death due to coronary heart disease,” said study co-author Dr. Catherine Gale, a research specialist from the Universities of Edinburgh and Southampton. “The physical health care of people with mental disorders needs to be a priority for clinicians if this burden is to be reduced.”