Chronic Disease and Bipolar Disorder

chronic disease cigarette

I’ve recently read some medical journals concerning the lower life expectancy of those living with Bipolar Disorder. Unfortunately those diagnosed with BP have an average lifespan that is 9.2 years less than the national average. It’s believed the primary reasons for this are:

Suicide rate

Greater Risk of Chronic Disease

Lack of medical care

I bring this issue up because having bipolar disorder does not mean you are doomed to an early grave. It is one more thing we have to contend with, but it is possible to increase your odds to that of the national average.
Yesterday I posted an article discussing suicide risks. Over the next couple of days I’ll be covering the risk of chronic disease and lack of medical care.

Chronic Disease

People with a mental illness are more than twice as likely to smoke cigarettes and more than 50 percent more likely to be obese compared to the rest of the population. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) patients with mood or anxiety disorders are about twice as likely to also suffer from a drug disorder.

When two disorders or illnesses occur simultaneously in the same person, they are called comorbid. Surveys show that drug abuse and other mental illnesses are often comorbid. Six out of ten people with a substance use disorder also suffer from another form of mental illness.

Like many with mental illness I did a lot of self-medicating before I was diagnosed. My drug of choice for many, many years was alcohol, however, I rarely met a drug I didn’t like. I’d take almost anything to get the negative voices in my head to shut up. I was sober for 6 months before I was diagnosed with chronic depression. I’m very grateful for my sobriety because I do believe that had I not gotten sober I would be dead today. It was only the clarity of sobriety that I was able to look at myself and think, “Something’s wrong.”

chronic disease obesityLike so many, when I started taking medications for bipolar disorder, my weight skyrocketed. 303 lbs would be morbidly obese for anyone, but being 5’5”tall I was at extreme risk for heart disease, cancer and a whole list of other ailments. My doctor referred me to get gastric bypass surgery, but I chose to go to Weight Watchers instead. So far I’ve lost over 50 lbs. I’ve got a ways to go, but, but I’m definitely on the right track. The idea of leaving my daughter and my husband behind is something that compels me to continue to live a healthier lifestyle.

Reducing weight can be much more difficult for those with bipolar because weight gain is a common side effect of most bipolar medications. It’s not easy, it’s part of the lousy deck of cards we’ve been dealt, but it can be done. The same holds true for smoking and the use of illicit drugs.

Thomas Insel of the National Institute of Mental Health states the “5 percent of Americans who have serious mental illness die of the same things that the rest of the population experiences — cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and diabetes.” The problem, as I said, is we are more likely than the general population to contract them and to die earlier from them.

Reaching out to others when having suicidal thoughts, keeping your weight down, quitting smoking, stopping alcohol abuse and illegal drugs can all be factors to boost your health for a longer lifespan. This is nothing new. We’ve heard it all before, but those of us suffering from mental illness must listen harder There’s one more action, of extreme importance, that you can turn things around almost immediately and I will explain that in tomorrow’s article.

  4 comments for “Chronic Disease and Bipolar Disorder

  1. marc
    April 30, 2014 at 22:45

    I recently spent a week in an inpatient psych hospital for suicidal thoughts and was diagnosed with major depression and somewhere on bipolar spectrum. I am in my mid 40s and always felt something “not right” about me. I am a healthcare provider and now have been on both sides of the fence. I get it and it sucks! I rather have hypertension or diabetes. I hope for better treatments for the future and for a lessening of stigmas–mental illness is real and the pain of it really hurts. I get it!

  2. March 12, 2014 at 10:23

    I think you are making some very valid points here. Especially about self-medicating; been there, done that. I quit for the most part all drinking except for a glass of wine or two every now and then. I managed to kick my use of hard drugs. Although I do use Adderall for ADD and to combat some of the weight gain that Seroquel causes.

    I do agree that people with mental illness need to be informed and vigilant; especially when your moods are shifting. i am constantly in a “mixed” episode. I am depressed and manic all at the same time. It is an interesting way to live.

    • Bradley
      March 12, 2014 at 14:38

      I use to have mixed episodes as well – very interesting ride. Now that I’m more stable I tend to run a bit more on the depressive side.

      • March 12, 2014 at 14:45

        I used to be more depressed than I am now. I am not sure when the mixed episodes started, but they have been going on for several months. At least they are not terribly disruptive. I just have a hard time getting things done once I start them….and yes, it is a very interesting ride…….kind of like the normal sine wave of gentle rocking has gone a bit haywire.

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