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May 22, 2024

New study links OCD to higher risk of death

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Jan 18, 2024

Swedish researchers find OCD patients have 82% increased mortality rate

A new study published yesterday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has found that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have an 82% higher risk of premature death compared to the general population.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, analyzed data from over 5 million Swedish residents between 1969 and 2016. Of those, approximately 25,000 had been diagnosed with OCD at some point.

Key findings show concerning mortality gap

The researchers tracked causes of death among OCD patients and compared them to the rates seen in the general Swedish population. Some key findings include:

  • OCD patients died 8 years earlier on average compared to the general population
  • All-cause mortality risk was 82% higher for those with OCD
  • Death rates were elevated across all age groups
  • Highest risk found among men and those diagnosed before age 18

“These sobering statistics highlight a concerning mortality gap for those suffering from OCD that warrants further investigation,” said lead researcher Dr. Lorena Fernández de la Cruz in an interview with Medriva Health News.

She emphasized the need for improved monitoring and treatment of OCD patients – especially those most vulnerable like adolescents and men.

Underlying causes of early death complex

While the study itself did not delve into the potential mechanisms leading to premature death among OCD populations, the researchers hypothesize that several factors likely play a role:

Suicide

Previous studies have shown increased suicide risk among OCD patients. Suicide contributed substantially to the higher mortality rates found in this study.

Related health conditions

Many chronic physical and mental health conditions occur more frequently with OCD, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Chronic respiratory conditions
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Clinical depression

The cumulative effects of these related conditions may accelerate health declines.

Treatment barriers

Obtaining proper diagnosis and evidence-based treatment for OCD can be challenging. Without appropriate care, symptoms often worsen over time. Higher levels of impairment may negatively impact physical health and self-care behaviors.

Genetic susceptibility

Emerging research suggests that similar genetic variations may underlie both OCD and certain fatal illnesses like cancer. More research is needed in this area.

International experts say findings consistent with prior research

The BMJ study’s findings align with previous smaller-scale mortality investigations in OCD populations, including recent research conducted in the United States.

“This new study reinforces and expands our understanding of the profound public health impacts of OCD,” said Dr. Carol Mathews, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Florida.

Mathews led a similar study in the U.S. that found OCD patients faced nearly twice the risk of dying prematurely compared to the general population. The leading causes of death were also comparable between the Swedish and American samples.

“While the underlying reasons for early mortality are complex, the consistency of findings across multiple studies emphasize that we can and should be doing more to improve outcomes,” Mathews urged.

OCD advocacy groups call for improved access to care

Several OCD advocacy organizations have spoken out about the study’s troubling findings. They are calling policymakers to action in order to curb OCD’s deadly impacts.

“The status quo is simply unacceptable,” said Max Stewart, founder of OCDAction, the largest advocacy group in the U.K. “This study’s findings should spark widespread reforms – from earlier screening and diagnosis to enhanced treatment and social support.”

OCDAction recently launched an awareness campaign called #EndingTheSilence to educate the public about OCD’s serious but often minimized health threats. They are petitioning the U.K. Department of Health for expanded OCD services and monitoring across Britain’s National Health Service.

What lies ahead?

With mortality risks much higher among OCD populations compared to the general public, there is an urgent need to dig deeper into the reasons why. Tailored interventions must then be developed targeting the factors most amenable to change.

The BMJ study researchers plan to launch a multi-year longitudinal investigation of Swedish OCD patients. They will track health outcomes, treatment engagement, and quality of life metrics over time. DNA samples will also be collected and analyzed for clues into genetic vulnerabilities.

“We owe it to OCD patients – and their families who suffer right alongside them – to gain greater insight into this disorder’s destructive path and then advocate for meaningful reforms that can alter its course,” concluded Dr. Fernández de la Cruz. “Countless lives hang in the balance.”

Support resources

If you or someone you know suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), help is available through the following organizations:

  • International OCD Foundation: Provides resources, online support groups, and a Find Help tool to locate OCD treatment providers globally. https://iocdf.org
  • NAMI HelpLine: A National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline offering OCD information, local referrals, and compassionate support at 1-800-950-6264
  • ADAA Online Support Group: Free weekly online support group for OCD hosted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/adaa-support-group

References

Fernández de la Cruz et al. “Mortality in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder: a population-based cohort study in Sweden.” British Medical Journal, vol. 384, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2023-077564

“Obsessive-compulsive disorder linked to increased risk of death: Study.” Hindustan Times, 18 Jan. 2024. https://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/health/obsessivecompulsive-disorder-linked-to-increased-risk-of-death-study-101705578105570.html

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To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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