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Keywords:

  • aging;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • comorbidity;
  • diabetes mellitus;
  • metabolic syndrome;
  • substance-related disorders

Objective:  Treatment of coexisting medical comorbidities may reduce the risk of adverse outcomes among patients with bipolar disorder. We determined the prevalence of general medical conditions in a population-based sample of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the Veterans Administration (VA).

Methods:  We conducted a cross-sectional study of patients (n = 4310) diagnosed with bipolar disorder in fiscal year 2001 receiving care at VA facilities located within the mid-Atlantic region. General medical conditions were assessed using ICD-9 codes, and we compared the prevalence of each condition in our bipolar sample with national data on the VA patient population.

Results:  The mean age was 53 (SD = 13), 10% were women, and 12% African-American. The mean age of the VA national patient population was higher (58 years). The most prevalent conditions among patients with bipolar disorder included cardiovascular (e.g. hypertension, 35%), endocrine (e.g. hyperlipidemia, 23%; diabetes, 17%), and alcohol use disorder (25%). When compared with national data, the prevalence of diabetes was higher in the bipolar cohort than in the national cohort (17.2% versus 15.6%; p = 0.0035). Hepatitis C was more common in the bipolar group than the national cohort (5.9% versus 1.1%; p < 0.001). Lower back pain (15.4% versus 10.6%; p < 0.0001) and pulmonary conditions (e.g. COPD: 10.6% versus 9.4%; p = 0.005) were also more prevalent among the bipolar cohort than the VA national cohort.

Conclusions:  Individuals with bipolar disorder possess a substantial burden of general medical comorbidity, and are occurring at an earlier age than in the general VA patient population, suggesting the need for earlier detection and treatment for patients with bipolar disorder.