Veterans with mental health disorders are at a higher risk of suffering heart disease and stroke, according to new research. Mental health disorders, specifically depression, psychosis, and bipolar disorder have a connection to veterans who have cardiovascular events.
New research published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal, helps to outline a connection that is known to be well established. Mental health and cardiovascular disease are known to be linked, but there has been little research and data on which mental health conditions pose the highest risk.
For this study, researchers looked at veterans at risk for major heart disease and stroke events and death that were associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis, and bipolar disorder. This data was collected from more than 1.6 million veterans aged 45 to 80 who received care in the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system from 2010-2014. Approximately 45% of the men and 63% of the women had been previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
Cardiovascular Events and Death
The findings showed both men and women with various mental health diagnoses had a higher risk of cardiovascular events and death over five years. The results were controlled for age and cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure.
Among men, depression, anxiety, psychosis, and bipolar disorder were associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Depression, psychosis, and bipolar disorder were also linked to cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.
Among the female participants, it was found that depression, psychosis, and bipolar disorder posed a higher cardiovascular disease risk. Psychosis and bipolar disorder also increased the risk of death.
For all participants, including both male and female, a diagnosis of psychosis posed the strongest risk for heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease.
This study was not intended to find why veterans with mental health conditions have a higher risk of cardiovascular events, but the authors of the study hypothesize that chronic stress due to mental health problems could play a role.
“The bottom line is that when considering a veteran’s health care needs, mental health status, especially for more severe mental illnesses, should be taken into consideration when calculating cardiovascular disease risk and considering the appropriate treatment options,” said Mary C. Vance, M.D., M.Sc., an employee of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
Although this study was significant in participant size, researchers do warn that results could differ in the population outside of the Veterans Affairs health system. More research is needed to assess why there is such a connection, and how the risk could be diminished.