Serious medical problems frequently accompany bipolar disorder

Many individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder have serious medical problems including diabetes and cardiovascular disease which significantly increase their risk of dying. In fact cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder resulting in an average life expectancy that is 10 to 25 years shorter than the population at large. Bipolar patients are diagnosed with cardiovascular disease 14 years earlier on average compared to individuals who do not have mood disorders. Furthermore, bipolar individuals with cardiovascular disease have more frequent and more severe mood symptoms compared to medically healthy bipolar individuals. The association between increased risk of cardiovascular disease and bipolar disorder has not been adequately explained and may be due to chronic unhealthy lifestyle choices, the psychological stress of dealing with bipolar mood swings, or genetic and biological factors.

In addition to the above factors adverse effects of medications also significantly increase cardiovascular risk by causing weight gain. It is estimated that approximately two thirds of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder are overweight and one third are obese. In general individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder exercise less and are more sedentary compared to individuals who are not diagnosed with serious psychiatric disorders. High rates of obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol use in bipolar patients lead to high rates of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease resulting in increased overall mortality compared to the general population.

Available pharmacologic approaches used to treat bipolar disorder are limited because of safety problems and efficacy problems. Several emerging non-pharmacologic treatments are supported by research evidence. To read about safe and effective uses of natural supplements and other complementary and alternative treatments of bipolar disorder read “Bipolar Disorder: The Integrative Mental Health Solution,” by James Lake M.D.

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