Bipolar Disorder Shortens Lives

Research shows that those with bipolar disorder are more likely to die earlier than the general population.

woman with head on table

Medically reviewed in January 2021

There’s no question that bipolar disorder takes a serious toll on a person’s life. It can damage relationships, affect work and school performance, even make it hard to get out of bed. However, the effects of the illness are much more far-reaching than that. Research also shows that people with bipolar disorder live shorter lives.

One study looked at data from more than 6.5 million Swedish adults, including 6,600 people with bipolar disorder. Researchers found that, compared to the general population, men with bipolar died 8.5 years earlier, and women with the disorder died 9 years earlier. Why? The list of causes may surprise you: Men and women suffering from bipolar disorder had a higher risk of death from heart disease, diabetes, COPD, influenza and pneumonia, and women were more likely to die from cancer. The risk of suicide in patients with bipolar was also up to 10 times greater.

How Bipolar Impacts Your Health
While these studies couldn’t conclusively prove that mental illness causes people to live shorter lives, there are many possible explanations for how it might.

It’s long been thought that a person’s mental disposition can greatly affect their physical health. Conditions like bipolar disorder and depression, both characterized by a chronically down mood, can take a toll on a person’s immune system, decreasing their ability to effectively fight off and recover from chronic disease and sickness.

Patients with severe mental illness are also more likely to engage in risky behavior like drug and alcohol abuse to cope with their symptoms, which can harm their mood and physical health. Substance abuse also increases the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Also, people with bipolar disorder and other mental illness are often on prescription medications that promote weight gain, leading to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. They may take less care of themselves physically, eating a poor diet and missing out on exercise. They may also skip out on annual health screenings and doctor’s appointments more than the general population.

More Ways to Stay Healthy
The findings reaffirm that getting early and adequate treatment for bipolar disorder really is a matter of life and death. Take control of your condition by being aware of your symptoms, and speak to your doctor about an individualized and well-rounded treatment plan. You can also try these simple lifestyle changes to protect your overall health.

  • Watch your weight. Because weight gain is thought to be one of the main contributing factors of mortality in patients with bipolar disorder, it’s important to check your weight often. If you’re at an unhealthy weight, work with your doctor on a plan to lose the pounds. He or she may also be able to prescribe medications that are less likely to cause weight gain.
  • Get your greens. People with mental illness often live on fatty, high-calorie convenience foods. Instead, try to follow a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, high-fiber foods, lean meats and snacks low in fat, salt and sugar.
  • Keep moving. Fight the urge to stay inside by exercising. Physical activities like walking help maintain your weight, control your mood and can reduce anxiety by up to a third. Regular exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week is best, but people can benefit from any increase in physical activity.

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