Links Between Schizophrenia and Cardiovascular Disease

Posted on November 17th, 2013
Posted in Mental Health

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term that doctors use to describe a group of conditions that damage the normal function of the heart, or the blood vessels that form the circulatory system. Worldwide, more people die from these conditions than from any other health problem. People with the mental health disorder schizophrenia have unusually high risks for developing a fatal cardiovascular disease. According to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Human Genetics, these risks stem largely from an overlap between the genetic and biological factors that increase a person’s chances of developing either schizophrenia or CVD.

Cardiovascular Disease Basics

Together, the heart and blood vessels form the cardiovascular system. Along with the lungs, this system is responsible for supporting everyday human health by doing such things as circulating oxygen and other types of nutrients throughout the body and removing waste materials such as carbon dioxide. In order to perform these jobs properly, the heart, arteries, veins, and tiny blood vessels called capillaries must all remain in good working order. Cardiovascular disease occurs when one (or more) of the individual portions of the cardiovascular system loses its ability to function normally.

Cardiovascular disease is also sometimes referred to as heart disease. Forms of this disorder include coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, heart failure, cerebrovascular disease (strokes) and congenital heart disease. People with coronary heart disease have problems with the arteries that supply blood to the heart’s tissues; people with peripheral arterial disease have problems with the arteries that feed blood to the upper and/or lower limbs. People with heart failure have abnormally weakened hearts, while people with cerebrovascular heart disease have problems with the arteries that feed blood to the brain. People with congenital heart disease have structural problems with their hearts from the time they’re born.

Schizophrenia Basics

Schizophrenia is a form of psychotic mental illness. As this classification indicates, people affected by the disorder commonly develop symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations, delusional thought processes, unusually disconnected or disrupted thought processes, and unusually agitated or inactive body movements. Schizophrenics also frequently develop additional symptoms that include loss of the ability to feel pleasure, a steep decline in verbal communication skills, memory disruptions, an inability to focus or concentrate, loss of normal emotional expressiveness and a reduced ability to make judgments or plan for the future. Depending on his or her particular symptoms, an affected individual may receive a diagnosis for a specific form of schizophrenia such as paranoid schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia or disorganized schizophrenia.

Common Factors

People diagnosed with schizophrenia die from cardiovascular disease twice as often as people who don’t have the disorder. In the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, a multinational research team used a combination of statistics and genetic analysis to investigate potential underlying reasons for this fact. After reviewing their data, these researchers identified 25 separate risk factors for schizophrenia. In addition, they concluded that many of these risks also appear in people who go on to develop cardiovascular disease. Examples of these overlapping factors include such things as having a high waist-to-hip ratio, having a high body mass index (weight-to-height ratio), having high blood pressure during the active portion of the heartbeat, and having high blood levels of LDL cholesterol or another harmful type of fat called triglyceride. Some of these factors are genetically inherited, while others develop from environmental influences in a person’s life.

Significance

The authors of the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics believe that their findings show that schizophrenics have unique risks for developing cardiovascular disease, apart from such issues as medication side effects or lifestyle influences. In turn, these unique risks go a long way toward explaining why people with schizophrenia have such dramatically increased chances of dying from a heart or blood vessel disorder. The study’s authors also believe that recognition of the CVD risks in schizophrenics would likely help reduce these individuals’ cardiovascular-related death rate.

Nine of the schizophrenia risk factors identified in the study were already known to specialists in the field of genetic investigation. However, 16 of the identified factors were previously unknown or unrecognized. The study’s authors believe that the techniques they used to uncover these new risks could also help uncover the risks for a variety of other mental and physical health concerns.

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