Mental Illness, Homelessness Linked to Heart Disease in Study

Mental Illness, Homelessness Linked to Heart Disease in Study

Mental Illness, Homelessness Linked to Heart Disease in Study

High smoking rates also considered a key contributor

SOURCE: St. Michael's Hospital, news release, Feb. 23, 2015

TUESDAY, Feb. 24, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Homeless people with mental illness are at high risk for heart disease, a new study suggests.

Canadian researchers found that they have a 24.5 percent risk of heart attack, fatal or nonfatal stroke, or sudden cardiac death over 30 years.

The risk is about 10 percent for a person of the same age and gender who does not smoke, does not have diabetes or high blood pressure, and is not overweight, the researchers noted.

The risk of cardiovascular disease in homeless people with mental illness was highest among men and those with substance abuse disorders, according to the study published Feb. 23 in the journal BMC Public Health.

"Many of the factors that we thought would be associated with the 30-year cardiovascular risk among homeless adults with mental illness were actually not significant, such as not having a family doctor or having a diagnosis of psychosis or having a higher need for mental health services," said Agnes Gozdzik, a research associate at the Center for Research in Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

"However, if you are homeless and having a mental illness and are a male or have a substance use disorder, your risk of 30-year cardiovascular disease appears to be much higher even if you may not show the typical other predictors such as high [body-mass index or high blood pressure], etc. ," she added in a hospital news release. "This is something that clinicians who work with this population should be aware of."

Smoking may be one reason why homeless people with mental illness have such a high risk of heart disease, the researchers suggested. Research shows that both homeless and mentally ill people have high rates of smoking.

According to some estimates, as many as 90 percent of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder smoke, as do about 70 percent of people with a major depressive disorder. The smoking rate in the general population is about 20 percent, the news release says.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death among all homeless people, the authors noted.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about homeless health concerns.

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