Research links bipolar disorder and physical health problems

Bipolar disorder is associated with higherrates of physical illness, according to a new study by the Bipolar Disorder Research Network team,which includes the National Centre for Mental Health’s Professor Nick Craddock,Professor Ian Jones and Dr Liz Forty.

The research, published by the British Journal of Psychiatry, examined the rates of medical illness in 1,720 adult patients with bipolardisorder and compared them to 1,340 people who did not have the condition. Theyalso looked at features of bipolar disorder that were most associated withco-occurring medical illnesses.

The study found that a high burden of medicalillness was associated with a history of anxiety disorder, ‘rapid cycling’ moodepisodes (where a person with the disorder experiences four or more episodes ofmania or depression in one year), and suicide attempts during the bipolar illness.

The most common co-occurring medicalillnesses were migraine, asthma, and elevated blood lipids (which areassociated with high cholesterol). Each of these conditions was reported in onefifth of bipolar patients. Other illnesses found at increased rates in bipolarpatients included hypertension, thyroid disease and osteoarthritis.

Researchers concluded that possible linksbetween the mental health disorder and a range of physical illnesses should betaken into account by healthcare services in order to improve outcomes forpatients with bipolar disorder.

Researcher Professor Nick Craddock said:“This study confirms what we see in the clinic: mental illness and physicalillness commonly affect the same person and must both be taken into accountwhen providing help and treatment.

“Increased rates of physical illness inpeople with bipolar disorder contribute to the poor health and early death thatis experienced by too many patients.

“The research indicates that it is verylikely there are shared biological mechanisms between bipolar disorder andseveral physical illnesses that explain why they often occur together in thesame person.”

Commenting on the findings, NCMH DirectorProfessor Ian Jones said “This research reaffirms the need for healthcareservices to look at the bigger picture when treating patients with bipolar.”

“It shows how research can help improve ourunderstanding of bipolar disorder, which in turn will enable us to improvediagnosis and treatment in the future. This emphasises the need for studies,such as NCMH, that enlist the help of large numbers of people with mentalhealth problems”.

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