Severe mental illness may increase risk of heart disease, study finds

Photo (c) Carol Yepes - Getty Images

Experts say these heart health risks may manifest from a young age

Researchers have previously identified a link between mental health and physical health outcomes, and now a new study conducted by researchers from the American Heart Association is further proving that connection. 

According to the findings, consumers who struggle with a serious mental illness may have a higher risk of developing heart disease – even from an earlier age. 

“Even at younger ages, people with serious mental illness had a higher risk of heart disease than their peers, which highlights the importance of addressing cardiovascular risk factors for these individuals as early as possible,” said researcher Dr. Rebecca C. Rossom. “Interventions to address heart disease risk for these individuals are maximally beneficial when initiated at younger ages.”  

The link between mental health and heart health

The researchers analyzed data from 600,000 people between the ages of 18 and 75 who had received health care at a primary care clinic in Minnesota and Wisconsin between 2016 and 2018. The team used different risk analysis measures to determine how mental health impacted the participants' heart health outcomes. 

Ultimately, 11,000 participants were diagnosed with severe mental illness, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder. The researchers learned that participants in this group were nearly 10% more likely to develop heart disease within 10 years; comparatively, those who didn't have a serious mental illness had an 8% higher risk of heart disease within a decade. 

The risk shot up even higher when looking at the 30-year projections. Participants with mental illness were 25% more likely to develop heart disease, whereas those without mental health concerns were 11% as likely to develop heart disease long-term. 

The study showed several risk factors that may increase the risk of heart disease for those struggling with a serious mental illness. For starters, smoking was common among 36% of participants with mental health concerns, and obesity was common in half of this group. The team found that these participants were more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can increase the risk of heart disease. 

The researchers say these findings held up for the youngest participants in the trial – those between the ages of 18 and 34. With a better understanding of these physical and mental health risks, the team hopes health care professionals use this new information to help their patients.

“We encourage health care systems and clinicians to use the 30-year cardiovascular risk estimates for young adults with serious mental illness, as these may be used starting at age 18,” Dr. Rossom said. “Right now, estimates of 10-year heart disease risk are used most frequently, and they cannot be applied until people are at least 40 years old, which is too late to start addressing heart disease risk in people with serious mental illness.” 

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