Coronary Heart Disease Plays a Major Role in the Life Expectancy of People with Schizophrenia
Recently, a reader made a comment about life expectancy in people who have schizophrenia. This has been a subject of considerable debate for years in psychiatry. The sad truth is that people with the illness die sooner than the general population. Some research estimates that schizophrenia reduces life expectancy by 20%. Now the reasons for this lower life expectancy are important to consider because there is some hope in this situation. Most people with schizophrenia do not die from suicide or some accident that occurs during a psychotic episode; over 2 out of 3 people with the illness actually die of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Some research has shown that people with schizophrenia have twice the risk of developing CHD than other people. An obvious problem for mortality in schizophrenia is suicide. People with the disease are over 10 times more likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population. The reasons for this are varied, and could be the topic of another blog, but when it happens it is a tragic time for friends and loved ones. People with schizophrenia have to deal with stresses that most of us can only imagine, and sometimes the pain of dealing with this illness seems too much to bear. Fortunately, most people with schizophrenia do not commit suicide; more people with the illness die from heart disease.
For the family of a loved one with schizophrenia, heart disease is an important topic because there are several identified risk factors that can be managed, so something can be done about it. CHD is one of the leading causes of death in the world, and cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes can all influence its development. For long-term management of schizophrenia, having a good primary care provider is important. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and uncontrolled blood sugars all have very effective treatments that a family doctor could provide, and many patients do not have access to good primary care. A good relationship with a psychiatrist is important, but a good relationship with an internist or family doctor can have a huge impact on the length and quality of a patient’s life.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of sickness and death in people with schizophrenia. While there has been an overall trend of less cigarette smoking in the general population, among patients with schizophrenia smoking rates remain extremely high, over 50% according to some research. This is a tough habit to break for most people, but over the last 10 years there are several innovative treatments that have come about that substantially improve the chances of quitting smoking. A future blog can explore some of the ways cigarette smoking hurts patients with schizophrenia and what can be done about it.