World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
A number of reviews and studies have shown that people
with severe mental illness (SMI), including schizophrenia, bi-
polar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and major depressive
disorder, have an excess mortality, being two or three times as
high as that in the general population (1-21). This mortality
gap, which translates to a 13-30 year shortened life expectancy
in SMI patients (4,5,22-27), has widened in recent decades
(11,28-30), even in countries where the quality of the health
care system is generally acknowledged to be good (11). About
60% of this excess mortality is due to physical illness (27,31).
Individuals with SMI are prone to many different physi-
cal health problems (Table 1). While these diseases are also
prevalent in the general population, their impact on indi-
viduals with SMI is significantly greater (31,32).
Although many factors contribute to the poor physical
health of people with SMI (33), the increased morbidity and
mortality seen in this population are largely due to a higher
prevalence of modifiable risk factors, many of which are re-
lated to individual lifestyle choices (31). However, this is not
the whole story. It seems that the somatic well being of peo-
ple with a (severe) mental illness has been neglected for de-
cades (15), and still is today (7,34-39,40,41). There is in-
creasing evidence that disparities not only in health care
Physical illness in patients with severe mental disorders.
I. Prevalence, impact of medications and disparities
in health care
WPA EDUCATIONAL MODULE
Marc De Hert1, cHristopH U. correll2, JUlio BoBes3, Marcelo cetkovicH-BakMas4, Dan coHen5,
itsUo asai6, JoHan DetraUx1, sHiv GaUtaM7, Hans-JUrGen Möller8, DaviD M. nDetei9,
JoHn W. neWcoMer10, ricHarD UWakWe11, stefan leUcHt12
1University Psychiatric Center, Catholic University Leuven, Leuvensesteenweg 517, 3070 Kortenberg, Belgium; 2Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA;
3Department of Medicine - Psychiatry, University of Oviedo-CIBERSAM, Spain; 4Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Cognitive Neurology, and Department
of Psychiatry, Institute of Neurosciences, Favaloro University Hospital, Buenos Aires, Argentina; 5Department of Epidemiology, University of Groningen,
The Netherlands; 6Japanese Society of Transcultural Psychiatry; 7Psychiatric Centre, Medical College, Jaipur, India; 8Department of Psychiatry, University of Munich,
Germany; 9University of Nairobi and Africa Mental Health Foundation, Nairobi, Kenya; 10Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine,
St. Louis, MO, USA; 11Faculty of Medicine, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi Campus, Nigeria; 12Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Technische
Universität München, Munich, Germany
The lifespan of people with severe mental illness (SMI) is shorter compared to the general population. This excess mortality is mainly due
to physical illness. We report prevalence rates of different physical illnesses as well as important individual lifestyle choices, side effects
of psychotropic treatment and disparities in health care access, utilization and provision that contribute to these poor physical health
outcomes. We searched MEDLINE (1966 – August 2010) combining the MeSH terms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depres-
sive disorder with the different MeSH terms of general physical disease categories to select pertinent reviews and additional relevant
studies through cross-referencing to identify prevalence figures and factors contributing to the excess morbidity and mortality rates. Nu-
tritional and metabolic diseases, cardiovascular diseases, viral diseases, respiratory tract diseases, musculoskeletal diseases, sexual
dysfunction, pregnancy complications, stomatognathic diseases, and possibly obesity-related cancers are, compared to the general popu-
lation, more prevalent among people with SMI. It seems that lifestyle as well as treatment specific factors account for much of the in-
creased risk for most of these physical diseases. Moreover, there is sufficient evidence that people with SMI are less likely to receive
standard levels of care for most of these diseases. Lifestyle factors, relatively easy to measure, are barely considered for screening; baseline
testing of numerous important physical parameters is insufficiently performed. Besides modifiable lifestyle factors and side effects of
psychotropic medications, access to and quality of health care remains to be improved for individuals with SMI.
Key words: Physical illness, severe mental illness, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, psychotropic medication, health disparities
(World Psychiatry 2011;10:52-77)
access and utilization, but also in health care provision con-
tribute to these poor physical health outcomes (33-39). A
confluence of patient, provider, and system factors has cre-
ated a situation in which access to and quality of health care
is problematic for individuals with SMI (31). This is not to-
tally surprising as we are today in a situation in which the
gaps, within and between countries, in access to care are
greater than at any time in recent history (42). Therefore, this
growing problem of medical comorbidities and premature
death in people with SMI needs an urgent call to action.
This paper highlights the prevalence of physical health
problems in individuals with SMI. Furthermore, contributing
factors are considered that impact on the physical health of
these people, such as psychotropic medications (antipsychot-
ics, antidepressants and mood stabilizers), individual lifestyle
choices (e.g., smoking, diet, exercise), psychiatric symptoms,
as well as disparities in the health care. This is a selective,
rather than a systematic review of clinical data on physical
health problems in people with SMI, as we did not include
all physical diseases. We searched MEDLINE (1966 – August
2010) for epidemiological, morbidity and mortality data on
the association between physical illnesses and schizophre-
nia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. We com-
bined the MeSH terms of these psychiatric disorders with the
different MeSH terms of major general physical disease cat-
egories. We included pertinent reviews to identify prevalence
figures and factors contributing to the excess morbidity and
mortality rates. Reference lists of reviews were searched
for additional relevant studies. Moreover, if necessary to ob-
tain more specific information, for some of the general phys-
ical disease categories (e.g., respiratory diseases), we also
used specific physical illnesses as a search term.
PhysIcal dIseases lInKed to sMI and/or
Obesity is becoming a significant and growing health crisis,
affecting both developed and developing countries (43,44).
People with obesity have shorter life spans and are at in-
creased risk for a number of general medical conditions,
including type 2 diabetes mellitus, DM (relative risk, RR >3),
cardiovascular disease, CVD (RR >2-3), dyslipidemia (RR
>3), hypertension (RR >2-3), respiratory difficulties (RR >3),
reproductive hormone abnormalities (RR >1-2) and certain
cancers (e.g., colon) (RR >1-2) (22,45-49,50).
Several methods are available to assess overweight and
obesity. Body mass index (BMI) is a direct calculation
based on height and weight (kg/m2). A BMI ≥25 kg/m2
corresponds to overweight, a BMI ≥30 kg/m2 to obesity
(31). BMIs ≥30kg/m2 are known to shorten life expectancy
(48,51). However, based on evidence for higher morbidity
and mortality risk at BMIs below 30 Kg/m2 in Asian popu-
lations, the threshold for the definition of overweight in
these populations is modified to a BMI ≥23 Kg/m2 and the
threshold for obesity to a BMI ≥25 Kg/m2. Waist circumfer-
ence (WC), measuring abdominal or central adiposity, is
emerging as a potentially more valid and reliable predictor
of risk for CVD, type 2 DM, and other metabolic risk-re-
lated conditions, compared with BMI (31). Accumulating
evidence argues that lower cutoff points for WC should be
used for Asians, as this population is prone to obesity-re-
lated morbidity and mortality at shorter WCs (52-56). The
International Diabetes Federation (IDF) provides sex-and
race-specific criteria in defining WC to identify people
with central obesity, thus adjusting this criterion to make
it also useful in non-Caucasian populations (Table 2).
However, long-term prospective studies are still required
to identify more reliable WC cut points for different ethnic
groups, particularly for women (57).
Obesity in SMI patients
SMI and obesity overlap to a clinically significant extent
(45). Increasing evidence suggests that persons with SMI are,
compared to the general population, at increased risk for
overweight (i.e., BMI =25-29.9, unless Asian: BMI =23-24.9),
obesity (i.e., BMI ≥30, unless Asian: BMI ≥25) and abdomi-
nal obesity (see Table 2) (63-75), even in early illness phase
and/or without medication (76-78). The risk of obesity in
persons with SMI, however, varies by diagnosis. People with
schizophrenia have a 2.8 to 3.5 increased likelihood of being
obese (79). Several Canadian and US studies reported rates
of obesity (BMI ≥30) in patients with schizophrenia of 42-
60% (63,79,80). On the other hand, those with major depres-
Table 1 Physical diseases with increased frequency in severe mental illness (from 15)
Disease categoryPhysical diseases with increased frequency
Bacterial infections and mycoses
Respiratory tract diseases
Urological and male genital diseases
Female genital diseases and pregnancy complications
Nutritional and metabolic diseases
HIV (++), hepatitis B/C (+)
Obesity-related cancer (+)
Osteoporosis/decreased bone mineral density (+)
Poor dental status (+)
Impaired lung function (+)
Sexual dysfunction (+)
Obstetric complications (++)
Stroke, myocardial infarction, hypertension, other cardiac and vascular
Obesity (++), diabetes mellitus (+), metabolic syndrome (++),
(++) very good evidence for increased risk, (+) good evidence for increased risk
Table 2 Ethnicity-specific cutoff values of waist circumference indicating abdominal obesity (see 57-62)
European, sub-Saharan Africans, Mediterranean
and Middle Eastern populations
South Asians, Chinese, and ethnic South
and Central Americans
World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
sion or bipolar disorder have a 1.2 to 1.5 increased likelihood
of being obese (BMI ≥30) (44,69,70,81,82). Clinical research
has suggested that up to 68% of treatment-seeking bipolar
disorder patients are overweight or obese (83). One study
found an obesity rate (BMI ≥30) of 57.8% among those with
severe depression (84).
In patients with SMI, as in the general population, obe-
sity is associated with lifestyle factors (e.g., lack of exercise,
poor diet), but also with illness-related (negative, disorgan-
ized and depressive symptoms) and treatment-related fac-
tors, including weight liability of certain psychotropic
agents. Adverse effects, such as sedation, should also be
considered as potential contributors to weight gain in addi-
tion to, still not fully elucidated, medication induced effects
on appetite and food intake (45,73,50,85-87).
Obesity and psychotropics
Weight gain during acute and maintenance treatment of
patients with schizophrenia is a well established side effect of
antipsychotics (AP), affecting between 15 and 72% of patients
(26,50,77,88-98). There is growing evidence for similar effects
in patients with bipolar disorder (65,83,99). There is a hierar-
chy for risk of weight gain with AP that has been confirmed in
different studies and meta-analyses (88,92,100-106). Weight
gain is greatest with clozapine and olanzapine (107,108),
while quetiapine and risperidone have an intermediate risk.
Aripiprazole, asenapine, amisulpride and ziprasidone have
little effect on weight. A recent systematic review of random-
ized, placebo controlled trials of novel AP in children and
adolescents (<18 years old) identified the same hierarchy for
risk of weight gain for this vulnerable population (109). Among
the conventional AP, so-called low-potency agents, such as
chlorpromazine and thioridazine, have a higher risk than
high-potency drugs, such as haloperidol (110-112). No agent,
however, should be considered as truly weight-neutral, as the
proportion of individuals experiencing ≥7% weight gain is
greater with any atypical AP than with placebo (92), and all
AP have been found to cause significant weight gain in AP-
naïve or first-episode patients (113-115). Even amisulpride,
ziprasidone and low-dose haloperidol demonstrated notable
weight gain of 9.7 kg, 4.8 kg and 6.3 kg respectively at endpoint
in a 12-month trial of AP in first-episode patients (102). Equal-
ly, antidepressants (AD) such as paroxetine (116), and mood
stabilizers, such as lithium and valproate (117-119), have been
associated with weight gain (Table 3).
The high interindividual variability in medication-induced
weight gain suggests that genetic factors influence the risk to
gain weight (50,122). Studies of genetic predictors of weight
gain under AP therapy have mainly but not exclusively (131)
focused on HTR2C (132-135) and LEPR (135,136) gene
polymorphisms. Although the results are promising, the role
of genetic factors in predicting this severe side effect remains
an option for the future.
Obesity is also associated with the metabolic syndrome
(MetS), a clustering of abnormalities that confers a 5-6-fold
Table 3 Weight gain liability of psychotropic agents used in SMI (see 45,63-65,87,95,99,104,120,121-130)
Drug classWeight lossRelatively weight neutralWeight gain
AntipsychoticsAripiprazole (in pre-treated individuals)
Molindone (in pre-treated individuals)
Ziprasidone (in pre-treated individuals)
increased risk of developing type 2 DM and a 3-6 fold in-
creased risk of mortality due to coronary heart disease (137-
There is also evidence supporting the hypothesis that the
MetS or components of the MetS may be important etio-
logic factors for certain cancers (e.g., colon cancer) (145,146).
Although some controversy exists whether the MetS is a
true syndrome (57,147-149), and despite differences in spe-
cific criteria among the definitions (Table 4), there is agree-
ment that the major characteristics of the syndrome include
central obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, glucose intoler-
ance or insulin resistance (45,137,150). Studies show large
variations in prevalence estimates of the MetS across defini-
tions, countries or regions, gender, ethnicity, and age groups
(137). Countries in North and South America (151-154)
reported a relatively higher prevalence than other countries
or regions in the world (137).
MetS in SMI patients
The MetS is highly prevalent among treated patients with
schizophrenia. Depending on used MetS criteria, gender,
ethnicity, country, age groups and AP treatment, percentages
vary considerably (between 19.4% and 68%) (155-167).
However, there is little debate that people with schizophre-
nia exhibit a higher MetS prevalence than their peers in the
general population across the world (168). MetS rates in
patients with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder
have been reported to be 22-30% (143,169,170) and 42%
Table 5 summarizes the potential of various AP medica-
tion to cause or exacerbate the metabolic syndrome. Never-
theless, lifestyle and behavioral patterns (smoking, physical
inactivity, dietary habits) also play important roles in the
prevalence of the MetS in SMI populations (118,168,176).
Disparities in health care
The proportion of SMI patients not receiving tests for as-
sessing metabolic risk factors, even for factors relatively
simple and easy to measure, such as obesity and blood pres-
sure, is high (141,177-181). At present, neither psychiatrists
nor primary care physicians carefully screen or monitor pa-
tients receiving AP medication for metabolic risk factors
(173). Even after FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and
ADA (American Diabetes Association)/APA (American
Psychiatric Association) recommendations for novel AP, the
frequency of baseline glucose and lipid testing showed little
change. Several large-scale pharmacoepidemiologic studies
of individuals initiating a novel AP (with non-psychiatric
large control groups) reported low mean baseline metabolic
testing rates, varying between 8% and less than 30% (181-
183) and follow-up assessments done in only 8.8% of pa-
tients. Likewise, most children starting treatment with novel
AP do not receive recommended glucose and lipid screen-
ing. In a related study in children receiving AP treatment,
similarly low metabolic monitoring rates were found (184).
The MetS remains, thus, widely underdiagnosed and under-
treated among patients with SMI.
Three to four percent of the world’s population have DM,
which leads to a markedly increased risk of blindness, renal
failure, amputation and cardiovascular disease, and reduces
life expectancy by 10 or more years. Currently, 70% of peo-
ple with DM live in developing countries, and while DM is
increasing across the world, its greatest increase will be in
these countries. By 2030 more than 80% of people with DM
will live in developing countries (195).
There are well-defined biological and behavioral risk fac-
tors for type 2 DM (195). The most important of these are
overweight and obesity (RR: 4.10-17.5)(196), particularly
abdominal obesity, and physical inactivity (RR: 1.12-2.18)
(196-205). Other behavioral risk factors include certain di-
etary patterns (over and above any effect on obesity), such
as diets low in whole grains and other sources of fibre, as
well as smoking (206).
Identifying people at high risk of DM is important be-
cause it has been demonstrated that intensive interventions
in this group can reduce the incidence of DM. In individuals
at high risk, a combination of moderate weight loss, in-
creased physical activity and dietary advice can lead to a
60% reduction in DM incidence (207,208).
DM in SMI patients
Evidence suggests that the prevalence of DM in people
with schizophrenia as well as in people with bipolar disor-
der and schizoaffective disorder is 2-3 fold higher compared
with the general population (103,209-216). The risk of DM
in people with depression or depressive symptoms is 1.2-2.6
times higher compared to people without depression (217-
The reason for the increased risk of DM in SMI patients
is multifactorial and includes genetic and lifestyle factors as
well as disease and treatment specific effects. An increase in
well-established DM risk factors in these patients partially
accounts for much of the increased risk (16,226). However,
additional factors (disease, treatment) are important as well,
and research suggests that, compared to the general popula-
tion, the prevalence of DM in schizophrenia patients is 4 to
5 times higher in different age groups (15-25: 2% vs. 0.4%;
25-35: 3.2% vs. 0.9%; 35-45: 6.1% vs. 1.1%; 45-55: 12.7%
vs. 2.4%; 44-65: 25% vs. 5.8%) (227).
World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
DM and psychotropic medications
Atypical AP seem to have a stronger diabetogenic risk
than conventional AP (96,228,229), the risk being 1.3 fold
higher in people with schizophrenia taking atypical AP com-
pared with those receiving conventional AP (230). However,
the risk of DM-related adverse events differs between atypi-
cal AP. Of the atypical AP, specifically olanzapine (231-234)
and clozapine (232,234,235) and, to a lesser extent, quetiap-
ine (236) and risperidone (237), are associated with an in-
creased risk of DM (80) in people who have schizophrenia
or bipolar disorder (238,239). A recent large-scale pharma-
coepidemiologic study (including 345,937 patients who pur-
chased antipsychotics and 1,426,488 unexposed individuals)
Table 4 Working definitions of the MetS (see 57,185-194)
NCEP ATP III
IDF & AHA/NHLBI
IGT, IFG or DM type
2, and/or insulin
plus any 2 or more
of the following
Insulin resistance or
plus any 2 of the
but any 3 or more
of the following
At least one of the
factors (e.g., obesity,
plus 2 or more
of the following
plus any 2 of the
but any 3 or more
of the following
Obesity Waist-to-hip ratio
and/or BMI>30 kg/m2
WC≥94 cm (men)
WC≥80 cm (women)
WC≥102 cm (men)
WC≥88 cm (women)
BMI>25 kg/m2 or
WC>102 cm (men)
WC>89 cm (women)
(10-15% lower for
Elevated WC and
definitions as defined
by the IDF and AHA/
NHLBI until more
data are available
HDL - cholesterol
≥150 mg/dL (≥1.7
(<0.9 mmol/L) (men)
(<1.0 mmol/L) (women)
>177 mg/dL (>2.0
(men and women)
or on dyslipidemia Rx
or on elevated
<40 mg/dL (<1.03
<50 mg/dL (<1.29
or on reduced HDL-
<40 mg/dL (men)
<50 mg/dL (women)
(≥1.7 mmol/L) or
on lipid abnorma-
< 40 mg/dL
(women) or on lipid
≥150 mg/dL (≥1.7
mmol/L) (Rx for ele-
vated triglycerides is
an alternate indicator)
<40 mg/dL (<1.0
(Rx for reduced
HDL-cholesterol is an
≥160/90 mm Hg
(later modified as
≥140/90 mm Hg)
≥140/90 mm Hg
or on hypertension
≥130/85 mm Hg
or on hypertension
>130/85 mm Hg
≥130/85 mm Hg
≥130/85 mm Hg
(antihypertensive Rx in
a patient with a histo-
ry of hypertension is
an alternate indicator)
GlucoseIGT, IGF (≥110 mg/dL)
or DM type 2
IGT or IFG
(but not DM)
(later modified as
≥100 mg/dL) (≥5.6
mmol/L) or on
elevated glucose Rx
≥100 mg/dL (≥5.6
mmol/L) or pre-
type 2 DM
(Rx of elevated
glucose is an alternate
≥20 mg/min or albumin:
as ≥30 mg/g)
WHO: World Health Organization; EGIR: European Group for the Study of Insulin Resistance; NCEP ATP III: National Cholesterol Education Program Expert
Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III); AACE/ACE: American Association of Clinical
Endocrinologists/American College of Endocrinology; IDF: International Diabetes Federation; AHA/NHLBI: American Heart Association/National Heart, Lung,
and Blood Institute; IGT: impaired glucose tolerance; IFG: impaired fasting glucose; DM: diabetes mellitus; BMI: body mass index; WC: waist circumference; Rx:
treatment; HDL: high-density lipoprotein.
found low to moderate, but significantly increased rates of
incident DM compared with the general population for clo-
zapine (RR=1.45), olanzapine (RR=1.29) and risperidone
(RR=1.23). Rates increased two or more times with ziprasi-
done and sertindole. Aripiprazole, amisulpride and quetiap-
ine did not have a significantly increased rate (240).
In the only study to date in first-episode patients, DM
development was promoted in patients with schizophrenia
by initial treatment with olanzapine (hazard ratio, HR=1.41)
and mid-potency conventional AP (HR=1.60), as well as by
current treatment with low-potency conventional AP (odds
ratio, OR=1.52), olanzapine (OR= 1.44) and clozapine
(OR=1.67). Current aripiprazole treatment reduced DM risk
(OR= 0.51) (241). An analysis of the FDA’s DM-related ad-
verse events database (ranging from new-onset hyperglyce-
mia to life-threatening ketoacidosis), found the following
adjusted reporting ratios for DM relative to all drugs and
events: olanzapine 9.6 (9.2-10.0); risperidone 3.8 (3.5-4.1);
quetiapine 3.5 (3.2-3.9); clozapine 3.1 (2.9-3.3); ziprasidone
2.4 (2.0-2.9); aripiprazole 2.4 (1.9-2.9); haloperidol 2.0 (1.7-
2.3) (242). However, a systematic review of 22 prospective,
randomized, controlled trials found no difference in the in-
cidence of glycaemic abnormalities between placebo co-
horts and AP medication cohorts, as well as no significant
difference between any of the AP medications studied in
terms of their association with glycaemic abnormalities
(243). Although the latter analysis was restricted to mostly
short-term trials, this inconsistency of findings suggests that
medication effects interact with patient, illness, cohort and
AD may also increase the risk of DM, probably partly due
to side effects such as sedation, increased appetite, and
weight gain (244-248). However, although increasing, spe-
cific data on the risk of DM associated with the use of AD
are sparse. Given the heterogeneity and small sample sizes
of the few currently available studies, it is unclear whether
or not specific AD themselves may increase the risk of DM.
Nevertheless, it seems that an increased risk of DM is associ-
ated with the concurrent use of tricyclic AD and serotonin
reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (OR=1.89) (249), the long-term
use of both tricyclic AD (incidence rate ratio, IRR=1.77) and
SSRIs (IRR=2.06) in at least moderate daily doses (250), as
well as the use of AD medication in high-risk patients (251).
Furthermore, although understudied, certain mood stabi-
lizers, especially valproate, have been associated with an
elevated risk for the development of insulin resistance
(252,253), conferring a risk for DM, which is possibly re-
lated to weight gain (254), and/or fatty liver infiltration
(255), but also to valproate itself (256).
Disparities in health care
There is evidence that diabetes patients with mental health
conditions are less likely to receive standard levels of diabe-
tes care (35,257,258). In the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of
Intervention Effectiveness (CATIE) schizophrenia study,
non-treatment rate for DM was 45.3% (35). One study
(n=76,799), examining the impact of mental illness on DM
management, found the unadjusted OR to be 1.24 (1.22-
1.27) for no hemoglobin A(1c) testing, 1.25 (1.23-1.28) for no
low-density lipoprotein cholesterol testing, 1.05 (1.03-1.07)
for no eye examination, 1.32 (1.30-1.35) for poor glycemic
control, and 1.17 (1.15-1.20) for poor lipaemic control (257).
Despite clear guidance and a high prevalence of undiagnosed
DM, screening rates for metabolic abnormalities in people
with SMI remain low, which may lead to prolonged periods
of poor glycaemic control (259-263). Delayed diagnosis re-
sults in prolonged exposure to raised blood glucose levels,
which can, among other things, cause visual impairment and
blindness, damage to kidneys with the potential consequence
of renal failure, and nerve damage (264).
Although diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially fatal
condition related to infection, trauma, myocardial infarction
or stroke (265), occurs most often in patients with type 1
DM, it may be the first obvious manifestation of type 2 DM.
Symptoms include: increased thirst and urination, nausea
and vomiting, abdominal pain, poor appetite, unintended
weight loss, lethargy, confusion and coma.
The incidence of DKA is nearly (266) or more (267) than
10-fold greater in those with schizophrenia compared to the
general population. Cases of DKA have been reported with
the atypical AP clozapine (235,268), olanzapine (233,269),
quetiapine (236), risperidone (237), aripiprazole (270-272)
and ziprasidone (242). However, not all atypical AP appear
to have the same propensity to cause this complication
(273). The incidence of DKA for each atypical AP over a
7-year period was as follows: clozapine, 2.2%; olanzapine,
0.8%; and risperidone, 0.2% (267). However, higher inci-
dence rates for clozapine and olanzapine can be due to re-
porting and detection biases (more DKA cases may be re-
Table 5 Approximate relative likelihood of metabolic distur-
bances with AP medication (172-175)
High (?, limited data)
Mild (?, limited data)
Low (?, limited data)
Low (?, limited data)
World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
ported for these agents since doctors in general are more
careful about clozapine and olanzapine and therefore detect
and report such cases with these agents more frequently).
Within the class of conventional AP, cases of DKA have
been reported with chlorpromazine (274,275), but no such
cases have been reported for other conventional AP. The
mortality of reported cases of DKA varies between 15.4%
and 48% (233,235-237), which is up to ten times higher than
the 4% rate in the general population (276).
The term cardiovascular diseases (CVD) refers to any dis-
ease that affects the cardiovascular system. Coronary heart
disease and cerebrovascular disease are the principal com-
ponents of CVD and make the largest contribution to its
global burden (277,278). CVD accounts for 17.1 million or
29% of total worldwide deaths (279). While there are down-
ward trends in CVD mortality in most developed countries
due to successful secondary prevention, the mortality rates
in developing countries are rising (280). A staggering 82%
of worldwide CVD deaths take place in developing coun-
tries (279). Global trade and food market globalization have
led to a transition toward a diet that is energy dense and
nutrient poor. The resultant increases in obesity are accom-
panied by physical inactivity. In addition, tobacco consump-
tion is increasing at alarming rates in developing countries
(281). Finally, people in developing countries have less ac-
cess to effective and equitable health care services which
respond to their needs (279).
The conventional risk factors for CVD are smoking, obe-
sity, hypertension, raised blood cholesterol and DM. Many
other factors increase the risk of CVD, including unhealthy
diet, physical inactivity and low socioeconomic status (282,
283). Table 6 shows the summary prevalence of CVD risk
factors in developed and developing countries, based on the
World Health Organization (WHO) comparative risk factor
survey data. The risk of late detection of CVD risk factors
and consequent worse health outcomes is higher among
people from low socioeconomic groups due to poor access
to health care. This gradient exists in both rich and poor
CVD in SMI patients
The preponderance of evidence suggests that patients
with major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
are at significantly higher risk for cardiovascular morbidity
and mortality than are their counterparts in the general pop-
ulation (2,9,11,23,28,29,287-295). Moreover, in SMI pa-
tients, CVD is the commonest cause of death (2,25,33,
The prevalence of CVD in people with schizophrenia and
bipolar disorder is approximately 2- to 3-fold increased, par-
ticularly in younger individuals (5,16,25,29,297,299,301,302).
A recent review of all published larger (>100 patients) studies
between 1959 and 2007 found the mortality risk for CVD to
be 35% to 250% higher among persons with bipolar spectrum
disorders compared to the general population (6). People with
depression have a 50% greater risk of CVD (22). Besides the
fact that depression is an independent risk factor for aggravat-
ing morbidity and mortality in coronary heart disease (303),
the main factor mediating the link between depression and
coronary events seems to be lack of physical activity (304).
The aetiology of this excess CVD is multifactorial and
likely includes genetic and lifestyle factors as well as disease
specific and treatment effects (16). People with SMI have
significantly higher rates of several of the modifiable risk
factors compared with controls. They are more likely to be
overweight or obese, to have DM, hypertension, or dyslip-
idemia and to smoke (25,95,229,178,305-308). The excess
CVD mortality associated with schizophrenia and bipolar
disorder is widely attributed to the 1-5 fold RR of the modi-
fiable CVD risk factors in this group of patients compared
with the general population (Table 7).
Coronary heart disease in SMI patients
Coronary heart disease refers to the failure of coronary
Table 6 Economic development and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in WHO subregions (see 280,286)
Poorest countries in Africa, America,
South-East Asia, Middle East
Better-off countries in America, Europe,
South-East Asia, Middle East, Western Pacific
Developed countries of Europe,
North America, Western Pacific
Mean body mass index19.9 - 26.022.9 - 26.023.4 - 26.9
Physical inactivity (% with
no physical activity)
11 - 2315 - 2417 - 20
Low fruit and vegetable
intake: average intake
per day (grams)
240 - 360 190 - 350290 - 450
Blood pressure (mean
systolic pressure mmHg)
125 - 133124 - 133 127 - 138
Mean cholesterol (mmol/L)4.8 - 5.1 4.6 - 5.8 5.1 - 6.0
circulation to supply adequate circulation to cardiac muscle
and surrounding tissue, a phenomenon that can result in a
myocardial infarction. During the 21st century, coronary
heart disease will remain the leading cause of death in de-
veloped countries, will become the leading cause of death in
developing countries, and therefore, will emerge as the lead-
ing cause of death in the world (25). The risk of coronary
heart disease seems to be 2-3.6-fold higher in patients with
schizophrenia (25,299). One large study found that the ten-
year coronary heart disease risk was significantly elevated in
male (9.4% vs. 7.0%) and female (6.3% vs. 4.2%) patients
who have schizophrenia compared to controls (p=0.0001)
(101). People with bipolar disorder have a 2.1 fold higher
risk (299). The RR of myocardial infarction in people with
major affective disorder was found to be 1.7 to 4.5 (310-313).
Depression is an even stronger risk factor for cardiac events
in patients with established coronary heart disease: prospec-
tive studies have shown that depression increases the risk of
death or nonfatal cardiac events approximately 2.5-fold in
patients with coronary heart disease (314).
Cerebrovascular disease in SMI patients
Cerebrovascular disease is a group of brain dysfunctions
related to disease of the blood vessels supplying the brain,
and can result in a cerebrovascular accident or stroke. The
risk of cerebrovascular accident seems to be 1.5 to 2.9 fold
higher in patients with schizophrenia (40,41,299,302,315,
316) and 2.1 to 3.3 fold higher in patients with bipolar dis-
order (299,317). The RR of developing cerebrovascular ac-
cident for patients with major affective disorder was found
to be 1.22 to 2.6 (318,319). Obesity, DM, CVD as well as
depressive symptoms are recognized as risk factors for cere-
brovascular accident (317,320).
CVD and psychotropics
In addition to weight gain and obesity related mecha-
nisms, there appears to be a direct effect of AP that contrib-
utes to the worsening of CVD risk (96,97,121,321). A recent
publication demonstrated that atypical AP D2 antagonism
could have a direct effect on the development of insulin re-
sistance (322). Evidence was found that higher AP doses
predicted greater risk of mortality from coronary heart dis-
ease and cerebrovascular accident (299).
Overall, SSRIs appear safe in cardiac populations, with
few cardiac side effects (287,311), while studies have found
an increased risk of adverse cardiac events in patients using
tricyclic AD (311,323,324). Tricyclic AD commonly increase
heart rate by over 10%, induce orthostatic hypotension, slow
cardiac conduction, and increase the risk of arrhythmias. Al-
though it can have some cardiac conduction effects, in gen-
eral, lithium can be safely used in cardiac patients (287).
Sudden cardiac death and psychotropics
Patients with schizophrenia have been reported to be three
times as likely to experience sudden cardiac death as indi-
viduals from the general population (325,326). In patients
with AP monotherapy, a similar dose-related increased risk
of sudden cardiac death was found for both conventional and
atypical AP, with adjusted RRs of 1.31 vs. 1.59 (low dose,
chlorpromazine equivalents <100mg), 2.01 vs. 2.13 (moder-
ate dose, chlorpromazine equivalents 100-299mg) and 2.42
vs. 2.86 (high dose, chlorpromazine equivalents ≥300mg),
respectively (327). In large epidemiological studies, a dose
dependent increased risk of sudden cardiac death has been
identified in current users of tricyclic AD (328).
There is a consensus that QTc values >500 msec, or an
absolute increase of 60 msec compared with drug-free base-
line, puts a patient at significant risk of torsade de pointes,
ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac death (94,329,
330). Most AP and some AD may be associated with QTc
prolongation (331). Patients using AP have higher rates of
cardiac arrest or ventricular arrhythmias than controls, with
ratios ranging from 1.7 to 5.3 (332-335). AP associated with
a greater risk of QTc prolongation include pimozide, thio-
ridazine and mesoridazine among the conventional AP
(94,335,336) and sertindole and ziprasidone among the
atypical AP (94,337). However, the largest randomized study
to date (n=18,154) did not find a statistically significant dif-
ference in the risk of sudden cardiac death between ziprasi-
done and olanzapine treated patients with schizophrenia
Table 7 Estimated prevalence and relative risk (RR) of modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease in schizophrenia and bipolar
disorder compared to the general population (see 4,305,309)
Modifiable risk factorsSchizophreniaBipolar disorder
Prevalence (%)RRPrevalence (%)RR
World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
(338,339). Similarly, another large randomized study
(n=9,858) observed no significant differences between
sertindole and risperidone recipients in cardiac events, in-
cluding arrhythmias, requiring hospitalization. However,
cardiac mortality in general was higher with sertindole
(337). These large randomized studies, which focused on a
low incidence serious side effect, suffer from the problem
that they did not enrich samples for cardiac risk, so that they
lack power and, possibly, generalizability. Cases of torsade
de pointes have been reported with thioridazine, haloperi-
dol, ziprasidone, olanzapine, and tricyclic AD. Although
SSRIs have been associated with QTc prolongation, no cases
of torsade de pointes have been reported with the use of
these agents. There are no reported cases of lithium-induced
torsade de pointes (328).
Disparities in health care
SMI patients have the highest CVD mortality but the least
chance of receiving many specialized interventions or circu-
latory medications. Evidence suggests that people with
schizophrenia are not being adequately screened and treat-
ed for dyslipidemia (up to 88% untreated) and hypertension
(up to 62% untreated) (35,306,340-343). The care of these
patients shows a significant deficit in the monitoring of cho-
lesterol values and the prescription of statins (25,35,40,344).
They also have low rates of surgical interventions, such as
stenting and coronary artery bypass grafting (40,41,291,
297,345). A poorer quality of medical care contributes to
excess mortality in older people with mental disorders after
heart failure (346). Another important barrier is the lack of
seeking medical care by SMI patients themselves, even dur-
ing acute cardiovascular syndromes (25).
Patients with SMI are at increased risk for a variety of
chronic viral infections, of which the most serious are the
diseases associated with human immunodeficiency virus
(HIV) and hepatitis C virus.
The prevalence of HIV positivity in people with SMI is
generally higher than in the general population, but varies
substantially (1.3-23.9%) (347-370). The high frequency of
substance abuse, sexual risk behaviors (e.g., sex without a
condom, trading sex for money and drugs), and a reduced
knowledge about HIV-related issues contribute to this high
HIV prevalence (364,371-376). Therefore, it is important
that patients with SMI are tested for HIV (377). However,
studies investigating HIV testing rates among individuals
with a SMI indicate that fewer than half of these patients
(percentages ranging from 17% to 47%) have been tested in
the past year (378-394).
Since many patients with SMI are exposed to atypical AP,
which have been associated with metabolic abnormalities,
and since patients infected with HIV and on highly active
antiretroviral therapy may also develop metabolic abnor-
malities, this group of patients is at particularly high risk for
developing MetS and ultimately CVD (395).
Across different continents, markedly elevated rates of
hepatitis virus infection have been reported in persons with
SMI compared to the general population (364,396-403).
The largest study to date found prevalence rates of hepatitis
B virus (23.4%) and hepatitis C virus (19.6%) in SMI pa-
tients to be approximately 5 and 11 times the overall esti-
mated population rates for these infections. Overall, an es-
timated 20-25% of persons with SMI are infected with
hepatitis C virus (360,404-407).
The most common transmission routes for persons with
SMI are drug-use behaviors and sexual behaviors related to
drug use (404-406). Therefore, especially patients with SMI
and substance use disorders (including dependency) should
have routine screening and treatment for hepatitis C virus
infection to prevent associated morbidity and mortality
(400,407,408). Interventions exist that are specifically de-
signed to facilitate integrated infectious disease program-
ming in mental health settings for people with SMI and to
overcome provider- and consumer-level barriers at a modest
and specified cost (409). A recent study showed that the as-
signment of people with SMI to the “STIRR” (Screening,
Testing, Immunization, Risk reduction counseling, medical
treatment Referral) intervention had high levels (over 80%)
of participation and acceptance of core services (testing for
hepatitis C, immunization against hepatitis, knowledge
about hepatitis) (407).
respiratory tract diseases
Up until 50 years ago, respiratory diseases, such as pneu-
monia and tuberculosis, accounted for the majority of deaths
amongst people with SMI who lived in institutions (2). To-
day, respiratory diseases are still more prevalent in people
with SMI (8,410-417).
Studies consistently show a higher incidence of tubercu-
losis among patients with schizophrenia compared with the
general population (422-426). In some countries, tuberculo-
sis still occurs so frequently that mental hospitals have spe-
cial wards for people with both tuberculosis and schizophre-
nia (15). If untreated, up to 65% of people with active tuber-
culosis will die of the disease. However, chemotherapy is
effective and the vast majority of people with drug-suscepti-
ble forms of tuberculosis are cured if properly treated (427).
A nationwide, population-based study found schizophre-
nia to be associated with a 1.37 times greater risk of acute
respiratory failure and a 1.34-fold greater risk of mechanical
ventilation (428). Filik et al (414) found that people with
SMI have a higher prevalence of angina and respiratory
symptoms and impaired lung function when compared with
the general population. Significant barriers to prompt and
appropriate medical care for pneumonia still persist for pa-
tients who have schizophrenia (428).
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
The prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary dis-
ease, i.e. chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is significantly
higher among those with SMI than comparison subjects
(429-433). In a study of 200 outpatients in the US, 15% of
those with schizophrenia and 25% of those with bipolar
disorder had chronic bronchitis, and 16% of people with
schizophrenia and 19% of people with bipolar disorder had
asthma. These rates were significantly higher than those of
the matched controls from the general population. The au-
thors also found that, even when smoking was controlled for
as a confounder, both people with schizophrenia and bipo-
lar disorder were more likely to suffer from emphysema
(430). Although the association remains unclear, a higher
incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the
past two decades has been associated with the side effects of
phenothiazine conventional AP (434).
Cancer risk in SMI patients
Given that obesity and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are
known risk factors for a number of cancer types (149,435-
438), one would expect to see higher cancer rates in patients
with SMI. However, studies exploring the relationship be-
tween SMI and all cancer types together have shown con-
flicting results (30,439). Some studies have demonstrated a
decreased cancer risk in schizophrenia (440-448). On the
other hand, other studies found an increased (9,21,28,449-
451) or no different (292,419,452,453) overall risk of cancer
in patients with schizophrenia compared to the general
population. In the population of bipolar spectrum disorders,
deaths from cancer are not higher (8,288,416,417,454-456)
or only slightly elevated (417,418,456) compared with the
general population, despite the higher number of risk factors
for cancer (such as obesity) in this population. This discrep-
ancy of results may be a result of various confounding fac-
tors that could artificially lower the rates of diagnosed and
reported cancer in SMI populations. For example, people
with SMI are less likely to receive routine cancer screening
(457-460). Furthermore, patients with SMI have a shorter
life expectancy, so they may die from cardiovascular reasons
before reaching the expected age of death from cancer (30).
Another tentative hypothesis is that AP have antitumour
properties (448) or that the disease itself has a possible pro-
tective effect, including a tumor suppressor gene or en-
hanced natural killer cell activity (461,462). Nevertheless, a
problem with most of the existing data base analyses is that
etiologically disparate cancer types were lumped together.
An important analysis of cause-specific excess deaths asso-
ciated with underweight, overweight, and obesity in the gen-
eral population found that obesity was associated with an
increased mortality from cancers considered obesity-related
but not with mortality from other cancers (463).
Cancer risk and psychotropics
Because of the possible, but still controversial, role of pro-
lactin in breast cancer, the assumption has been made that
exposure to prolactin-raising dopamine antagonists could
result in breast cancer. The current study database on AP
and breast cancer risk is very limited (464). The majority of
the studies in which the risk of breast cancer has been inves-
tigated in patients treated with conventional AP (465-468)
did not uncover an increased risk of breast cancer, an excep-
tion being the cohort study by Wang et al (469).
Osteoporosis in SMI patients
Schizophrenia, schizoaffective states, major depression
and bipolar disorder are known to be associated with low
bone mineral density (BMD) (470). In comparison with the
general population, untreated patients with schizophrenia
appear to have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
On the one hand, this is because of the disease itself, on the
other hand, because of risk factors related to their lifestyle
(e.g., smoking, reduced physical activity, alcohol abuse,
vitamin D and calcium deficiency, polydipsia) (470-476). Al-
though the association between depression and loss of BMD
has been reported inconsistently, most studies have found
low BMD in patients with depressive symptoms or major
depressive disorder (477-483). Two recent meta-analyses
confirmed that depression is associated with low BMD and
should be considered as an important risk factor for osteo-
porosis, although this increased risk may be mediated by AD
(484,485). However, physiologic changes and the adoption
of poor health behaviors are two prominent ways in which
depression is hypothesized to directly affect BMD (486).
World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
Osteoporosis and psychotropics
Although it has been suggested that raised prolactin lev-
els provoked by AP medication can lead to an increased
risk of osteoporosis in patients with schizophrenia (471,
487), clinical data implicating AP-induced hyperprolac-
tinemia as a possible major risk factor for bone loss are
limited and contradictory (488,489). Some studies (490-
493) found a relationship between the use of prolactin-rais-
ing medication and low BMD in patients with chronic
schizophrenia, while others (474,489,494-498) failed to
find a relationship between prolactin, AP and osteoporosis.
Nevertheless, the available data seem to indicate that hy-
perprolactinemia with associated hypogonadism may be a
risk factor (488), leading to bone mineral loss in women as
well as men (499).
The majority of studies directly examining the relation-
ship between AD and BMD in humans report that the use
of these medications is associated with low BMD (486).
However, this finding seems to be restricted to the SSRI
class of AD (500-502).
Data describing the epidemiology of osteoporotic fracture
and psychotropics in patients with SMI are limited. Regard-
ing AP, conflicting results exist (503). Some of these studies
have reported higher prevalence rates of osteoporotic frac-
tures in patients with chronic schizophrenia, entirely or
partly independent of the use of AP (504,505). Other studies
(506-510) have found significant increases (OR=1.2-2.6) in
the risk of fractures associated with AP. For AD, a dose-re-
sponse relationship was observed for fracture risk (504,508).
SSRIs seem to be associated with the highest adjusted odds
of osteoporotic fractures (OR=1.5) (504,505, 508). A meta-
analysis showed a 33% increased risk of fractures with SSRIs
compared to non-SSRI AD. The RR of fractures in this meta-
analysis was 1.60 for AD and 1.59 for AP (511). Although
lithium has a potentially negative impact on bone metabo-
lism (470), it is associated with lower fracture risk (OR=0.6)
and, thus, seems to be protective against fractures (504,505).
Urological, male/female genital diseases
and pregnancy complications
Sexual dysfunction in SMI patients
Sexual dysfunction in SMI patients has received little at-
tention from clinicians (512,513). This low awareness has a
significant negative impact on patients’ satisfaction with
treatment, adherence, quality of life and partner relation-
ships (450). Although there are relatively few systematic in-
vestigations concerning sexual disorders in schizophrenia
(514), sexual dysfunction in schizophrenia is, compared to
normal controls, estimated to be more frequent (515-519)
and to affect 30-80% of women and 45-80% of men (512,515,
520-523). This dysfunction can be secondary to the disease
itself and to comorbid physical disorders, or be an adverse
event of AP (520,524,525). Sexual dysfunction is also a com-
mon symptom of depression (526-530). Up to 70% of pa-
tients with depression may have sexual dysfunction (466).
Approximately 25% of patients with major depression may
experience problems with erection or lubrication (531).
Patients with SMI are likely to engage in high-risk sexual
behavior, putting them at risk of sexually transmitted dis-
eases. However, findings suggest that sexual health educa-
tion for these people tends to produce a reduction in sexual
risk behavior (532).
Sexual dysfunction and psychotropics
Psychotropic drugs are associated with sexual dysfunc-
tion (514). To date, only few studies (534-547) have directly
compared the sexual functioning associated with different
atypical AP. These studies suggest that the relative impact of
AP on sexual dysfunction can be summarized as: paliperi-
done = risperidone > haloperidol > olanzapine ≥ ziprasi-
done > clozapine ≥ quetiapine > aripiprazole (503,520,536).
Conventional AP cause less sexual dysfunction than risper-
idone but more than the other novel AP (520,522).
AD therapy (except for mirtazapine, nefazodone and bu-
propion) frequently induces or exacerbates sexual dysfunc-
tion, which occurs in approximately 50% of patients (548).
Although sexual dysfunction has been reported with all
classes of AD (549), SSRIs are associated with higher rates
(550-552). Published studies suggest that between 30% and
60% of SSRI-treated patients may experience some form of
treatment-induced sexual dysfunction (553,554).
Pregnancy complications, SMI and psychotropics
There is an extensive literature reporting an increased oc-
currence of obstetric complications among women who
have schizophrenia (15). During pregnancy, it is important
to evaluate the safety of psychotropic drugs. Most women
with a SMI cannot stop taking their medication, as this
would interfere with their activities of daily living, especially
taking care of an infant (555). There is a paucity of informa-
tion, with a lack of large, well designed, prospective com-
parative studies during pregnancy. However, no definitive
association has been found up to now between the use of AP
during pregnancy and an increased risk of birth defects or
other adverse outcomes (555,556). Among AD, SSRIs and,
possibly, serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors
(SNRIs) have been associated with preterm labor, respira-
tory distress, serotonin rebound syndrome, pulmonary hy-
pertension and feeding problems in the neonate (557-559).
Furthermore, a number of mood stabilizers have been as-
sociated with fetal malformations, including carbamazepine
and valproate (560,561). Current evidence seems to suggest
that Fallot’s tetralogy is not considerably elevated with lith-
ium compared to the rate in the general population (560).
Oral health in SMI patients
Dental health has been consistently found to be poor in
people with SMI (562-573). A study using an overall dental
status index (DMF-T) in chronically hospitalized patients
with mental disorders (mostly schizophrenia) found a mean
score of 26.74 (out of a possible 32), one of the highest re-
ported in the literature (571). According to another study,
only 42% of patients with schizophrenia brush their teeth
regularly (at least twice a day) (573). This poor dental health
leads to functional difficulties. In one large study (n=4,769),
34.1% of the patients with SMI reported that oral health
problems made it difficult for them to eat (572).
Factors which influence oral health include: type, sever-
ity, and stage of mental illness; mood, motivation and self-
esteem; lack of perception of oral health problems; habits,
lifestyle (e.g., smoking), and ability to sustain self-care and
dental attendance; socio-economic factors; effects of medi-
cation (dry mouth, carbohydrate craving); and attitudes and
knowledge of dental health teams concerning mental health
Oral health and psychotropics
AP, AD and mood stabilizers all cause xerostomia (575).
This reduction in salivary flow changes the oral environment
and leads to caries, gingivitis and periodontal disease (576).
Disparities in health care
Oral health status is a frequently disregarded health issue
among SMI patients (498), with low rates of dental examina-
tion within the past 12 months (569,577-579). In one study
of a mixed psychiatric population, 15% had not been to a
dentist in the last 2 years (579), while in another only 31% of
schizophrenia patients had visited a dentist during a three
year period (577). In the latter study, non-adherence to an-
nual dental visits was predicted by substance abuse diagnosis,
involuntary legal status, living in an institution, admission to
a psychiatric facility for a minimum of 30 days, and male
gender, whereas clozapine treatment, novel AP treatment, at
least monthly outpatient visits, and age > 50 years were as-
sociated with a lower risk for inappropriate dental care.
Taken together, these findings confirm the urgent need for
an intervention program to improve oral health outcomes
among patients with SMI, by facilitating access to dental
care and addressing modifiable factors such as smoking and
medication side effects (571,572), especially because oral
diseases are preventable and social inequity in oral health
avoidable (580). Moreover, improving dental health status
and care are relevant, as poor dental status is associated with
endocarditis and reduces social and work opportunities.
other physical health conditions in people with sMI
This review is by no means exhaustive. We speculate that
perhaps most medical illnesses occur with greater frequency
in SMI, which in itself serves as a vulnerability factor (587).
Haematological diseases, which may in themselves be
primary problems in patients with SMI, have frequently
been described in the literature as potential serious compli-
cations of psychotropic medications. AP (e.g., clozapine,
haloperidol, olanzapine, phenothiazines, quetiapine, ris-
peridone, ziprasidone), AD (e.g., amitriptyline, clomip-
ramine, imipramine) as well as lithium are associated with
blood dyscrasias. Clozapine (approximately 0.8%) and phe-
nothiazines (chlorpromazine approximately 0.13%) are the
most common causes of drug-related neutropenia/agranu-
locytosis. AD are rarely associated with agranulocytosis.
With appropriate management, the mortality from drug-in-
duced agranulocytosis in Western countries is 5-10% (be-
fore the use of antibiotics this percentage was 80%) (582).
Some physical conditions, although important, are rarely
studied, underreported and not systematically assessed. Al-
though a common side effect of AP that can be severe and
lead to serious consequences and even death, constipation
has been given relatively little attention. The most reported
complications of this physical condition are paralytic ileus,
faecal impaction, bowel obstruction and intestine/bowel
perforations. Constipation has most widely been reported
for clozapine, although it can be associated with other AP
as well. Prevalence of constipation in randomized controlled
trials for different AP is: zotepine 39.6%, clozapine 21.3%,
haloperidol 14.6% and risperidone 12% (583). Next to med-
ication effects, lifestyle and diet factors can contribute to the
occurrence of constipation in people with SMI (sedentary
life, low physical activity, diet low in fibre, limited fluid in-
take) (584). Clinicians should actively and systematically
screen and monitor symptoms and possible complications
of constipation (585-588).
In summary, many physical disorders have been identified
that are more prevalent in individuals with SMI. In addition
to modifiable lifestyle factors and psychotropic medication
side effects, poorer access to and quality of received health
care remain addressable problems for patients with SMI.
Greater individual and system level attention to these physi-
cal disorders that can worsen psychiatric stability, treatment
adherence, and life expectancy as well as quality of life will
improve outcomes of these generally disadvantaged popula-
tions worldwide. The barriers to somatic monitoring and
interventions in persons with SMI will be summarized in the
second part of this educational module, where monitoring
and treatment guidelines as well as recommendations at the
system level (state and health care institutions) and individ-
ual level (clinicians, patients, family) will be provided.
World Psychiatry 10:1 - February 2011
The production of this educational module is part of the
WPA Action Plan 2008-2011 and has been supported by the
Lugli Foundation, the Italian Society of Biological Psychia-
try, Pfizer and Bristol Myers Squibb.
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