Bipolar disorder impacts life expectancy in the young

Research indicates that patients with bipolar disorder have a decreased life expectancy, with this being particularly pronounced in younger patients.

The life expectancy of bipolar patients was reduced by about 10 years, relative to the general population, report Lars Vedel Kessing (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) and colleagues, who describe the reduction as “substantial”, albeit “less than previously reported.”

Their study, based on data from Danish national registries, found the reduction in patients’ life expectancy to be slightly greater for men, at between 8.7 and 12.0 years, than for women, at 8.3 to 10.6 years.

The differences were largest for the youngest patients; women and men who had bipolar disorder at 15 years of age had, respectively, 10.4 and 12.8 years less life expectancy than their counterparts in the general population. At the age of 25 years, the differences were 10.6 and 12.0, respectively.

“This finding is in accordance with a number of publications suggesting a poor outcome among patients with early-onset bipolar disorder”, the team writes in Bipolar Disorders.

The difference in life expectancy between bipolar patients and the general population decreased with age, from 9.5 and 10.5 years among women and men, respectively, aged 35 years, to a corresponding 3.0 and 2.8 years at the age of 75 years.

The researchers believe this “may be partly due to the increased rate of suicide during the first years after onset of the illness”, but also to the cumulative long-term effects of factors such as low-grade inflammation, oxidative stress and unhealthy lifestyle factors among patients who develop bipolar disorder earlier in life.

“Clearly, this important area of research warrants further investigation”, they conclude.

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