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Extremely high levels of cardiovascular risk factors in psychosis

When thinking of “mental illness”, one rarely considers the breadth of health issues which can go alongside a mental health difficulty. However, the IMPaCT team (Improving Physical health and Substance Use in Severe Mental Illness), has recently conducted a large research study which demonstrates the extremely high health risks in people with psychosis.

This research aimed to identify the prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors in psychosis, and identify individuals who met the criteria for metabolic syndrome; cluster of conditions which raises the risk for heart problems, e.g. increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat.

The results, from 450 people with psychosis, showed surprisingly high rates of cardiometabolic risk factors. Research has previously suggested cardiovascular problems in psychosis but this study reports some of the highest rates worldwide. This included; nearly half of the sample classified as obese, many with, or at high risk of, type 2 diabetes, nearly all had excess fat around the waist/stomach, and 57% met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. Over half the individuals were smokers, and lack of exercise was a commonality, with only 12% engaging in intense exercise. This research shows high levels of cardiovascular risk for people with psychosis, much higher than that observed in the general population.

Research has previously focused on different anti-psychotics as the cause of these cardiovascular problems, but the study found no differences in cardiovascular problems between different antipsychotics.

Dr Fiona Gaughran, senior author at King’s College London, suggested “A much greater emphasis on physical activity is needed for those with severe mental illnesses, as well as a more significant focus on supporting attempts to quit smoking. Research is needed into the best ways to reduce existing cardiovascular risk in people with psychosis, prevent weight gain, and promote healthy lifestyles”.

The study is currently in press; the abstract can be found here.

By: Abigail Christine Wright
Last updated: Saturday, 16 May 2015