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Examining link between bipolar disorder, early death

Bipolar disorder is among the leading causes of disability worldwide, and past research has shown a link between the mental illness and premature mortality. Recognizing the limitations of some past studies - such as small sample sizes - a Stanford-led group of researchers turned to data from a large national population to better understand this association and its underlying cause. Their results appear in JAMA Psychiatry today and are described in a journal release:

The study used outpatient and inpatient data from more than 6.5 million Swedish adults, including 6,618 with bipolar disorder, to examine the physical health effects associated with bipolar disorder...

According to the results, women and men with bipolar disorder died nine and 8.5 years earlier on average, respectively, than the rest of the population. All-cause mortality was increased two-fold among women and men with bipolar disorder compared to the rest of the population. Patients with bipolar disorder also had increased mortality from cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), influenza or pneumonia, unintentional injuries and suicide for both women and men, and cancer for women only.

Many reasons for poor outcomes among this population have been documented in the past: As the researchers discuss in their paper, "patients with bipolar disorder may be less likely than the general population to receive, primary, preventive medical care [and] they also have a higher prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle factors, including smoking, other substance misuse, and obesity."

This study, though, also showed that the mortality rates for those bipolar patients who were diagnosed with chronic disease early on was that not different than those of the general population. That means, the researchers conclude on a hopeful note, that ensuring patients with bipolar receive primary medical care and timely diagnosis and treatment could help "reduce mortality in this vulnerable population."

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