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People With Mental Disorders Have A Higher Risk Of Developing Chronic Physical Conditions

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People with mental disorders have a higher risk of being diagnosed with chronic physical conditions such as heart disease and arthritis, according to a recent study. Pixabay

People with anxiety disorder have an increased risk of being diagnosed with chronic physical conditions such as heart disease and cancer, according to new research published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers led by Dr. Kate M. Scott of the University of Otago found that mental health disorders of all kinds — mood, anxiety, impulse control, and substance use disorders — are associated with an increased risk of the onset of a wide array of chronic physical conditions.  The 10 chronic conditions studied include arthritis, chronic lung disease, and cancer, among others.  

“The study findings...suggest that the deleterious effects of mental disorders on physical health (if causal) accumulate over the life course and increase with mental disorder comorbidity," the researchers wrote. "If this is the case, treatment of all mental disorders should optimally incorporate attention to physical health and health behaviors."

Although previous studies have suggested that people with mental disorders in treatment settings have a higher incidence of developing chronic physical conditions and dying prematurely, those findings are “limited to those who receive treatment, so it is less clear whether mental disorders in the community (untreated and treated) might be linked with subsequent risk of chronic physical conditions,” the authors explained.

After analyzing data collected from the World Mental Health (WMH) surveys, which included more than 47,000 people from 17 countries, they found that most associations between mental disorders studied and the subsequent onset/diagnosis of the 10 physical conditions were statistically significant. They found people with depression, anxiety disorder, or alcohol abuse had an increased risk of developing all 10 chronic physical conditions, while bipolar disorder, social phobia, intermittent explosive disorder, and alcohol dependence were associated with simply nine.

"Current efforts to improve the physical health of individuals with mental disorders may be too narrowly focused on the small group with the most severe mental disorders," the researchers concluded. "Interventions aimed at the primary prevention of chronic physical diseases should optimally be integrated into treatment of all mental disorders in primary and secondary care from early in the disorder course."

These interventions can include emphasizing a strong focus on healthy behaviors during psychiatric treatment and having primary care physicians optimize chronic disease prevention for their mental health patients.

Source: Scott K, Lim C, Al-Hamzawi A, Alonso J, et al. Association of Mental Disorder With Subsequent Chronic Physical Conditions. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015. 

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