A new study shows people suffering from severe mental disorders, like schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders, are 25 percent to 40 percent likely to die from heart disease than those without such illness.
The research, led by Dr. Amy Kilbourne, also found that smoking and physical inactivity - behaviours that individuals potentially can change - significantly contribute to this increased risk of death.
They looked at results from the 1999 Large Health Survey of Veteran Enrollees in conjunction with the VA's National Psychosis Registry and the National Death Index of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The study, which includes responses from more than 147,000 veterans, is the largest of its kind to ever take place. Most of the respondents were men and about two-thirds were 50 or older.
Patients with mental disorders who also had a diagnosis of diabetes - a known risk factor for heart disease and a side effect of some antipsychotic medications - were at high risk for heart disease-related mortality, as were patients with a diagnosis of dementia.
Smoking and lack of exercise, both common behaviours in people with mental disorders, contributed to the heart disease-related deaths considerably.
"These are devastating illnesses that lead to a lot of functional impairment, so many of these individuals have difficulty staying motivated to exercise to begin with, or finding places where they feel comfortable exercising," said Kilbourne.
Considering factors such as diabetes and lifestyle, researchers found that patients with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders were still more likely to die from heart disease.
"This suggests that we are either missing some factor, or there is something inherent about having these disorders that puts patients at greater risk for heart disease-related mortality," said Kilbourne.
Dr. Eric Goplerud, said that results of this study and others suggest that people with serious mental illnesses are far less likely to receive medical screening and general preventive care.
He said that lack of coordinated care has serious consequences.
The study has been published in the latest issue of the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.