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11/02/2016 - Press release

People with mental disorders have an increased risk of developing chronic physical diseases

international study, which included the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute, involved 47,000 people from 17 countries

People with anxiety disorders have an increased risk of suffering chronic diseases such as heart disease, chronic pain, and peptic ulcers. This is one of the conclusions of a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, led by the University of Otago (New Zealand) and involving Dr Jordi Alonso, director of the Epidemiology and Public Health programme at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and a CIBERESP researcher.

The study found that all kinds of mental health disorders, related to mood, anxiety, and impulse control, as well as substance use disorders, are associated with an increased risk of a wide range of chronic physical diseases. The researchers studied the relationship between mental disorders and ten diseases: arthritis, chronic pain, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, peptic ulcers, and cancer.

“The findings of the study suggest that the harmful effects of mental disorders on physical health accumulate throughout life and increase the risk of comorbidity with mental disorders. This is why treatment for all mental disorders must also incorporate a focus on health behaviours and physical health”, explain the researchers.

After analysing the data obtained in World Mental Health surveys, involving information from more than 47,000 people from 17 countries, a statistically significant association was found between the mental disorders and studied and the subsequent appearance of the ten physical pathologies. It was discovered that, even taking into account the effect of known risk factors, people suffering depressive disorders, anxiety, impulse control, or alcohol abuse, had a higher risk of developing any of the chronic physical diseases looked at.

These results and those of other studies indicate that mental disorders are a risk factor for chronic physical diseases. It is known that mental disorders can lead to more frequent practising of risk behaviours, such as smoking and doing little physical activity. The fact that this study has taken some of these factors into account suggests that other mechanisms may explain the association. In addition, the representativeness of the study population allowed the scientists to estimate that the presence of a mental disorder could be behind the emergence of 1.5 to 13% of the chronic diseases analysed.

It is necessary to integrate interventions aimed at the primary prevention of chronic physical illnesses into the treatment of all mental disorders. This preventative step must take place at both primary care and hospital level, and could start right from the early stages of mental illness. This would help patients make better lifestyle decisions that have a lasting impact on their physical health", conclude the researchers.

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Reference article

Font Scott K, Lim C, Al-Hamzawi A, Alonso J, et al. Association of Mental Disorders With Subsequent Chronic Physical Conditions: World Mental Health Surveys From 17 Countries. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(2):150-158. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2688.

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