ANN ARBOR, Mich. — An alarming new study reveals people with bipolar disorder are significantly more likely to die prematurely. Researchers from the University of Michigan are showcasing a stark reality faced by individuals with this serious mental illness, which is characterized by extreme mood swings ranging from manic highs to depressive lows.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from two different groups. They found that people with bipolar disorder were four to six times more likely to die early than those without the disorder. This contrasted sharply with smokers, who were found to be only twice as likely to die prematurely, regardless of their bipolar status.
Utilizing data from 1,128 individuals, including 847 with bipolar disorder, the study began in 2006 and revealed that nearly all of the 56 deaths recorded were among those with the condition. The analysis, adjusted for statistical factors, showed that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder increased the likelihood of dying within a 10-year period sixfold compared to those without the disorder.
The team then corroborated these findings with another data set from over 18,000 patients at Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center. This larger pool included over 10,700 people with bipolar disorder and more than 7,800 without any psychiatric disorder. Here, they discovered that individuals with bipolar disorder were four times as likely to die during the study period than those without the disorder. Notably, high blood pressure was the only factor associated with a higher chance of dying during this period.
“Bipolar disorder has long been seen as a risk factor for mortality, but always through a lens of other common causes of death,” says study lead author Dr. Anastasia Yocum, data manager of the research program at the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program, in a university release. “We wanted to look at it by itself in comparison with conditions and lifestyle behaviors that are also linked to higher rates of premature death.”
The study’s findings highlight the urgent need for more action in the medical and public health communities to address the factors contributing to this heightened risk of death among people with bipolar disorder.
“To our major surprise, in both samples we found that having bipolar disorder is far more of a risk for premature death than smoking,” says study co-author Dr. Melvin McInnis, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Over the years there have been all kinds of programs that have been implemented for smoking prevention and cardiovascular disease awareness, but never a campaign on that scale for mental health.”
Other differences observed in the study included a higher likelihood of people with bipolar disorder to have ever smoked and a greater prevalence of females in this group. Additionally, the Prechter cohort with bipolar disorder was more likely to suffer from conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, migraines, fibromyalgia, and thyroid issues.
“We need to know more about why people with bipolar have more illnesses and health behaviors that compromise their lives and lifespan and do more as a society to help them live more healthily and have consistent access to care,” concludes Dr. McInnis.
The study is published in the journal Psychiatry Research.