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Mentally ill more likely to die from heart disease, not cancer: study

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The severely mentally ill are more likely to die from heart and circulatory problems than is the general population, said a British study.

However, chances of developing cancer are not higher for the severely mentally ill than in the population at large, according to the study, conducted in Britain and published in the February issue of the US publication Archives of General Psychiatry.

The side effects of anti-psychotic drugs, smoking, lifestyles and poverty all take their tolls on the health of the mentally ill.

The study shows that the severely mentally ill age 18-49 are 3.22 as likely to die from heart problems and 2.53 times as likely to die from a stroke than those enjoying mental heath.

The study followed 46,136 persons suffering from mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bi-polar and delusional disorders, as well as 300,426 mentally healthy persons.

The research compared the death rates of the two groups from circulatory illnesses and from the seven most frequent cancers in Britain: respiratory, colorectal, breast, prostate, stomach, esophageal and pancreatic.

"We chose to study death rates rather than incidence rates, because mortality is the most robust outcome since it includes diagnoses made postmortem," wrote the study's lead author David Osborn of the Royal Free and University College Medical School in London.

For the 50-75 age group, the chance for the severely mentally ill of dying from circulatory problems is 1.86 times greater for heart problems and 1.89 times greater for stroke.

Even when researchers adjusted for the effects of smoking and poverty, increased cardiovascular threat remained.

Researchers found that use of anti-psychotic medicines was a notable factor, and risk rose with the dosages prescribed.

"People with severe mental illness who were not prescribed any anti-psychotics were at increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke than controls, whereas those prescribed such agents were at even greater risk," the authors write.

"Those receiving the higher doses were at greatest risk for death from both coronary heart disease and stroke," the study said.

Researchers said caring for the mentally ill frequently overlooks other, non-mental illnesses.

"Clinically, a holistic approach to the care of people with severe mental illness is still frequently overlooked," they wrote.

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