Objective: Despite recent evidence that patients with bipolar disorder are at increased risk of premature mortality resulting from general medical disorders, there has been no systematic review of published studies. The authors reviewed the literature to determine whether there is evidence of increased risk of mortality from general medical causes among patients with bipolar spectrum disorders.
Methods: MEDLINE was searched from 1959 to 2007 with a focus on bipolar disorder and medical mortality. Published studies in English with more than 100 patients were included.
Results: Seventeen studies were identified involving 331,000 patients with bipolar disorder, affective psychosis, affective disorder severe enough to require inpatient psychiatric care or treatment with lithium, or schizoaffective disorder (that is, bipolar spectrum disorders) meeting the inclusion criteria. Compared with age- and sex-matched control samples without mental illness in the general population, mortality ratios for death from natural causes and from specific general medical conditions, such as cardiovascular, respiratory, cerebrovascular, and endocrine disorders, were significantly higher among patients with bipolar spectrum disorders in most studies. This finding was more consistent in larger studies with more than 2,500 patients with bipolar spectrum disorders. Cumulatively, cardiovascular disorder appeared to be the most consistent cause of excess mortality in larger studies.
Conclusions: The available evidence suggests that bipolar spectrum disorders are associated with increased premature mortality secondary to general medical illnesses. Unhealthy lifestyle, biological factors, adverse pharmacologic effects, and disparities in health care are possible underlying causes for this excess mortality.