Are schizophrenia patients more in danger from a heart attack than the general population? According to scientists from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto, Ontario, the risk of death from a heart attack is indeed higher in those with schizophrenia.
In general, factors such as smoking, a higher occurrence of diabetes, and other issues associated with antipsychotic medications mean those living with schizophrenia have an average lifespan 20 years shorter than the general population. As well, those with the illness tend to not make necessary lifestyle changes after a cardiac condition to improve their health.
Published online in Schizophrenia Research, the study looked at mortality rates and access to cardiac care for schizophrenia patients after a heart attack. Paul Kurdyak, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of General and Health Systems Psychiatry at CAMH and an adjunct scientist at ICES, looked at all cases of heart attacks in schizophrenia patients in Ontario over four years, comparing them to people without the illness.
“When we looked at the data, we found that people with schizophrenia were 56 percent more likely to die after discharge from hospital following a heart attack than those who did not have schizophrenia,” said Kurdyak, “We also found that patients with schizophrenia, despite the increase in mortality risk after a heart attack, were half as likely to receive life-saving cardiac procedures and care from cardiologists than those without schizophrenia.
“The numbers tell us that people with schizophrenia—the ones who are at most risk to develop and subsequently die from heart attacks—are not receiving adequate care,” continued Kurdyak. “The possible solutions are two-fold: Prevention is one. We need to support patients whom we know are at risk of developing medication-related metabolic issues by working with them to provide strategies to offset weight gain, such as healthy eating and physical activity. The other part is aftercare. The mental health care team, primary care providers, and the cardiac specialists need to work together to ensure that patients are seen again after a first incident of heart attack.”
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