Higher Bipolar Mortality Rates Confirmed
> 2/5/2009 3:00:20 PM

A large-scale retrospective survey has confirmed the long-held belief that mortality rates for individuals with bipolar disorder are higher than those in the general population. Affected individuals are simply more likely to die prematurely due to a variety of natural causes, the majority of which are medical conditions to which this subject pool is more susceptible.

Researchers pored over 17 studies, stretching from 1959 to 2007, that involved 331,000 patients with bipolar disorder or related psychoses in order to identify these higher mortality rates and name their causes. Compared to unaffected peers in the general population who are of similar age, the mortality risk for bipolar individuals is anywhere from 35% to 200% higher for both men and women, and the study's lead author compared the relative increase in rates to that experienced by long-time smokers. Past research and popular opinion have held that increased mortality rates among bipolar subjects come from a higher number of suicides and fatal accidents. But, while those stats are indeed higher in the bipolar population, this study pinpointed the most common conditions leading to premature death: heart disease, respiratory illness, stroke and complications related to diabetes and other endocrine disorders.

The reasons for this statistical trend are many, but they begin with the disabling effect bipolar disorder often has on physical health and lifestyle variables. Affected subjects have considerably higher rates of smoking, drinking, recreational drug use, homelessness and social isolation, all of which compromise life expectancies. They are less likely to engage in the standard quality of life boosters like regular exercise, healthy dietary choices and regular visits to the physician. The medications prescribed for the disorder often carry adverse side-effects as well: the most severe cases may require lithium or related medications that often contribute to the development of diabetes, high blood pressure and other detrimental conditions. Still, non-treatment is not an option, and bipolar individuals must be convinced to make requisite lifestyle changes in order to preserve their physical health. 

Bipolar disorder is a very serious chronic affliction that must be treated as soon as it is detected. Individual cases vary to the degree that different treatment combinations prove effective for different patients, meaning the trial-and-error process can be lengthy and frustrating. The study also reinforces the importance of treating physical infirmities in conjunction with mental illnesses, not as a separate course of treatment. The two are too closely intertwined to be treated in isolation.

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