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Physical Disease and Bipolar Disorder

Mood disorders are comorbid with many physical diseases. A team of researchers set out to determine which comorbidities, or co-occurring illnesses, seemed uniquely linked to psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and major depression.

Much has been written about the link between mood disorders and cardiac disease, hypertension and diabetes. These seem to strike men with bipolar disorder at high rates.

Yet these diseases are heavily influenced by lifestyle, and people with bipolar disorder (BP) are disproportionally overweight, lead sedentary lives and smoke and drink a lot. It’s no wonder lifestyle-based diseases occur commonly in those with BP.

A research study from Australia specifically controlled for age, socioeconomic status, and health risk factors (body mass index, physical activity and smoking) in an effort to see beyond these factors and determine if any physical disease occurred along with BP at significant rates, regardless of lifestyle.

The study looked at men aged 20 – 97.

The study found no elevated risk of common lifestyle diseases in men with BP. The high occurrence of these diseases was attributable to poor lifestyle and socio-economic factors, not psychiatric diagnoses.

However, they did find that two types of diseases were unusually common in men with BP, and appear to be directly linked to the mood disorder:

Gastrointestinal disease and musculoskeletal disease.

This struck me, because I have both.

Gastro-intestinal disease includes GERD, irritable bowel syndrome, pancreatitis and celiac disease. The link between BP and celiac disease is especially strong.

Musculoskeletal conditions include rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.

What is striking is that many of these comorbidities are autoimmune diseases or are caused or aggravated by inflammation. The role of these factors in the development of BP is cutting edge research and medicine, and many studies are beginning to suggest that, for many, bipolar disorder may itself be an autoimmune disease.

Mainstream psychiatry is resistant to this idea, but evidence from immunology is building. These comorbidities may provide some insight to the debate.

The study also found high rates of chronic headaches and, in men over 60, pulmonary disease in the study group with BP. These diseases, too, have roots in inflammation.

Mind/body medicine has long made the case that diseases of the mind are inextricably linked to physical diseases. There is increasing evidence that these diseases are bi-directional, meaning they occur together as opposed to one causing the other.

It’s encouraging that science is beginning to shed so much light on the mind/body connection, and that research on bipolar disorder is at the forefront of this science.

Surely, more accurate diagnoses and more effective treatment will be the result.


My book Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis is available wherever books are sold.

Physical Disease and Bipolar Disorder

George Hofmann

George is the author of Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis, from Changemakers Books. Visit George's site or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2020). Physical Disease and Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jul 2020
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