From the Journals

New ‘atlas’ maps links between mental disorders, physical illnesses


Mental illnesses are associated with a significantly increased risk of subsequent physical diseases, new research shows.

An international team of researchers has created an “atlas” that maps the relationship between specific mental disorders and the risk of subsequent physical illnesses.

The researchers found that, following the diagnosis of a mental disorder, psychiatric patients are significantly more likely than the general population to develop potentially life-threatening conditions, including heart disease and stroke.

These findings, the investigators noted, highlight the need for better medical care in this vulnerable population. They have created a website with detailed information about the risks of specific physical ailments and the link to particular mental disorders.

“We found that women with anxiety disorders have a 50% increased risk of developing a heart condition or stroke – over 15 years, one in three women with anxiety disorders will develop these medical disorders,” lead investigator John McGrath, MD, PhD, University of Queensland’s Brain Institute, Brisbane, Australia, and Aarhus (Denmark) University, said in a statement.

“We also looked at men with substance use disorders such as alcohol-related disorders and found they have a 400% increased risk of gut or liver disorders, while over 15 years, one in five of them will develop gut or liver conditions,” he added.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

New ‘atlas’

It’s well known that patients with mental disorders have decreased quality of life, increased health care utilization, and a shorter life expectancy than individuals in the general population – about 10 years for men and 7 years for women.

However, the investigators noted, previous research examining the relationship between mental disorders and medical conditions only focused on “particular pairs or a small set of mental disorders and medical conditions.”

“We needed a comprehensive study to map the links between different types of mental disorders versus different types of general medical conditions. Our study has provided this atlas,” Dr. McGrath said in an interview.

The clinical utility of such a map could provide comprehensive data on relative and absolute risks of various medical conditions after a diagnosis of a mental disorder. This information, the researchers noted, would “help clinicians and health care planners identify the primary prevention needs of their patients.”

The study included 5.9 million people born in Denmark between 1900 and 2015 and followed them from 2000 to 2016, a total of 83.9 million person-years. The researchers followed patients for up to 17 years (2000-2016) for medical diagnoses and up to 48 years (1969-2016) for diagnoses of mental disorders.

The study’s large sample size allowed investigators to assess 10 broad types of mental disorders and 9 broad categories of medical conditions that encompassed 31 specific conditions.

Categories of medical conditions included circulatory, endocrine, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, urogenital, musculoskeletal, hematologic, neurologic, and cancer. Mental disorder categories included organic disorders such as Alzheimer’s, substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, mood disorders, neurotic disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, developmental disorders, behavioral/emotional disorders, and intellectual disabilities.

The researchers estimated associations between 90 pairs of mental disorders and broad-category medical conditions, as well as 310 pairs of mental disorders and specific medical conditions.


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