A mental health disorder diagnosis is life altering, and now it could also double a person's chances of having heart disease or stroke. Researchers from the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress have discovered people with mental disorders live a specific lifestyle that puts them at a greater risk. They presented their findings at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

"This population is at high risk, and it's even greater for people with multiple mental health issues," said the study’s lead author Dr. Katie Goldie, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, in a statement. Goldie and her team analyzed the risk factors with data from the Canadian Community Health Survey.

3 Reasons Mental Disorders Lead To Heart Problems

1. Psychiatric medications such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines, as well as mood-stabilizing medications, have been shown to cause weight gain, and make it difficult for the body to break down fats and sugars. The combo is deadly and will likely lead to obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

2. Mental disorders also accompany an unhealthy lifestyle, as this population is more likely to drink alcohol, have a poor diet, and less likely to exercise. When it comes to tobacco, 20 percent of the general population uses tobacco products. But between 40 to 90 percent of those with mental disorders use tobacco products, hardening the arteries and worsening their heart health at greater rates.

3. Mental disorder patients also have a difficult time communicating their health problems to a doctor. A mentally healthy person is likely to notice dangerous weight gain or chest pains, while someone with a disorder won’t understand the health threats associated with weight gain.

"The medications themselves account for a lot of risk in this group," Goldie said, and on top of it, they’re less likely to go to the doctor when they gain weight or have trouble breathing. "Or they may not even seek care because of the symptoms of their disorder. A separation between primary and mental health services can also challenge these patients' care. We need improved integration and collaboration."

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every one in four deaths are caused by heart disease, and the numbers may be higher for those with mental disorders but the link is so new that there's isn't yet data. Researchers suggest health care professionals need to be diligent and aware that people with mental disorders are a high risk population.

"The prevention strategies are the same for people with mental health issues," said Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Brian Baker, a psychiatrist who specializes in people with cardiac disease, in the statement. "That means eating a healthy diet, being physically active, being smoke-free, managing stress, and limiting alcohol consumption. Making positive health behavior changes is important to our physical health and to mental health too."

Source: Baker B and Goldie K. Canadian Cardiovascular Congress. 2014.