WELLNESS
10/31/2014 03:50 pm ET

Evidence That Heart Health And Mental Health Are Linked

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A new study provides more evidence that mental health and physical health are linked.

The study, presented at a meeting of the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, shows an association between having a mental disorder -- including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders -- and an increased risk of heart disease or stroke.

Specifically, researchers found that the likelihood of having heart disease or a stroke was doubled for people who had a mental disorder during any point of their lives.

And for people who had a mental disorder who hadn’t yet had heart disease or a stroke, their risk of developing heart disease in the future was higher than the general population.

Researchers also found that the likelihood of having heart disease was doubled and the likelihood of having had a stroke was tripled among people on psychiatric medications, which include antidepressants, mood-stabilizing drugs and antipsychotics.

The study was conducted using data from the Canadian Community Health Survey, which examined different health measures of people ages 12 and older living in the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada. Because the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, the results should be regarded as preliminary.

While the study only showed associations and did not prove a causal relationship between mental disorders and heart disease, study researcher Katie Goldie, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, offered some potential reasons for the link.

For one, behaviors that may be more common among people with mental disorders -- such as poor diet or tobacco or alcohol use -- could then be tied to the heart risk. Another possible reason is that the use of psychiatric medications could lead to weight gain, which could then lead to obesity and high cholesterol and pose a heart risk.

Yet another reason is that people with mental disorders may not be able to obtain appropriate care, “or they may not even seek care because of the symptoms of their disorder," Goldie said in a statement. "A separation between primary and mental health services can also challenge these patients' care. We need improved integration and collaboration."

This is hardly the first time mental health and heart health have been linked. In 2013, a study published in the journal Circulation showed that men who were diagnosed with a mental disorder at age 18 had a higher risk of heart disease. That study included more than 1 million Swedish men, who were followed over a 22.6-year period.

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