Research news

Patients with mental illness need heart medication

A new study shows that many patients suffering from mental illnesses have an elevated risk of heart disease, and they are in fact not getting the appropriate treatment, which in turn shortens their lifespan.

Many patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic depression) have an increased risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases.

This means that they have an increased mortality risk compared with the general population. The same tendency applies in Denmark, all over Europe and in the U.S. But the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases can be limited with the right medical treatment.

A research group at Aarhus University has compared medicine consumption, mortality rate and causes of death in patients who are being treated for schizophrenia or bipolar disease.

The study shows that doctors give out fewer prescriptions for heart medication to patients with mental illnesses compared to other patients in their care.  

The collected data also show that a greater percentage of the patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disease, who are not being treated for cardiovascular disease, die sooner than others of unnatural causes.

Thus, the results suggest that cardiovascular disease in this group of mentally ill patients is often overlooked, and the patients do not receive adequate treatment. This means that these patients’ life expectancy is shorter.

In the future, the treatment of mental illness should include treatment of physical illnesses as well – and there should be particular focus on the mentally ill and their risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases.

The article “Cardiovascula drug use and mortality in patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder: a Danish population-based study” has just been published in the British scientific journal Psychological Medicine. 

Facts about the study

  • The new study is based on unique registry data of more than one million people, and up until now only very few population-based studies have been conducted in this field.
  • Cardiovascular illness is one of the most important susceptible causes for early death in patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic depression).
  • People with schizophrenia, who have not previously have had a heart attack or cerebrovascular disease (delivery of blood to the brain), have a 6-16 times higher risk of dying compared to the rest of the population. The risk is greatest for the group of patients not being treated for cardiovascular diseases.
  • The data were collected in the period 1 January 1995 to 1 January 2009.
  • By providing patients suffering from severe mental illness with appropriate treatment for physicals diseases as well, it is possible to reduce the death rate by 50%.

Further information

Thomas Munk Laursen
MEPRICA and the National Centre for Register-Based Research
Aarhus University, Department of Economics and Business
Tel.:  +45 87 16 57 62