Mental health providers have long known that people with bipolar disorder have higher mortality rates, but this risk was mostly attributed to higher rates of suicide, homicide, and accidents. But a study suggests that people with bipolar disorder may be more likely than others to die of medical conditions.

Researchers reviewed 17 studies involving 331,000 patients. The combined results suggest that those with bipolar spectrum disorders have an increased risk—from 35 to 200 percent higher—of dying of natural causes compared with people of similar age and gender without these disorders. The biggest differences in mortality rates occurred with

  • heart disease,
  • respiratory disease,
  • stroke, and
  • diabetes.

Some of the problem may stem from newer antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers; they can cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. People with bipolar disorder also often have poor health habits, including an unhealthy diet, smoking, substance abuse, lack of exercise, and social isolation or homelessness. The condition itself also may cause changes in the body that cause or worsen medical conditions.

Health care providers may need to look beyond the bipolar disorder in order to better monitor their patients' physical health.

Source: Psychiatric Services Volume 60, page 147, February 2009

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 20 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 20 Aug 2013