Heart Problems May Start Early on in Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia patients showed risk factors for cardiovascular problems in early stages of mental illness

(RxWiki News) A mental illness can affect almost every part of life — including heart health, say the authors of a new study.

The study authors examined patients in the early stages of schizophrenia and found they already showed signs of risk factors for heart troubles.

According to the authors of this study, which was led by Christoph U. Correll, MD, of Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY, heart problems are common for patients with schizophrenia, a serious and chronic brain disorder that can include hallucinations and delusions.

Dr. Correll and colleagues wanted to see whether risk factors for heart disease — including smoking, being overweight and issues with blood pressure and cholesterol levels — could be seen early on in schizophrenia.

To do so, they used data from the Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode study, which was gathered at 34 mental health facilities between July 22, 2010, and July 5, 2012.

To focus on the early stages of this mental illness, Dr. Correll and team looked at patients with first-episode schizophrenia spectrum disorders (FES) — meaning signs of the disorder had only recently begun to show in these patients during an initial "episode" or experience of symptoms.

The 394 patients all had FES and had received less than six months of antipsychotic treatment over the course of their lifetimes. Patients ranged in age from 15 to 40 years old. The study authors measured factors tied to heart health.

Dr. Correll and team found that 48.3 percent of the patients were either obese or overweight and 50.8 percent smoked. They also found that 39.9 percent had pre-high blood pressure and 56.6 percent had dyslipidemia — a condition marked by high levels of cholesterol and fats called lipids in the blood.

The authors found a tie between having schizophrenia longer and having higher fat mass, fat percentage, waist circumference and body mass index — a height- and weight-based measure of body fat. However, the study authors found no link between illness duration and certain measures of metabolic health, such as glucose levels.

Dr. Correll and team noted that the cardiovascular risk factors observed early on in these patients' illness could be tied to schizophrenia, antipsychotic medications, an unhealthy lifestyle or a combination of factors. The study authors said that programs like ones to help monitor the side effects of medications and help patients quit smoking are needed from the very first stages of schizophrenia.

Further research is needed to confirm these findings and better understand the connection between schizophrenia and heart disease, the authors noted.

The study was published online Oct. 8 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Several of the authors received funding or served as consultants for different organizations, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Co. and Janssen Pharmaceutica. The National Institute of Mental Health and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funded the study.

Review Date: 
October 8, 2014