Bipolar disorder Heart health Mental health Sunnyview

Bipolar disorder and heart disease: what’s the link?

My first job out of university was at a medical publishing company in Montreal. It was staffed with several of my friends from school, all settling for the trade off of low pay for some real work experience. While I was busy learning the foreign ways of doctor speak, language of health care, it was a colleague in my office that taught me my first life lesson about mental illness.

I’ll call her Sue in this blog, and she was a sweet, almost soft-spoken girl I barely noticed until she returned to work after our first Christmas break at the company. Her personality seemed to have taken a drastic shift, bubbling over with energy and a euphoric kind of happiness. Within a day or two, that elation would cycle into episodes of extreme sadness. This continued for several months, and while we all noticed it, no one knew what to make of it. The irony strikes me now that we were all working in medical communications and couldn’t put a finger on bipolar disorder.

Known in the past as manic depression, bipolar disorder can lift and drop its host between opposing mood swings that can last from hours to months. Bipolar disorder also increases the risk of heart disease, accelerating the onset by up to 15 years. The big question is, why?

A new and unique Sunnybrook study is hoping to find out. Researchers will use high-resolution ultrasound to look at the blood vessel functioning in the forearms of teens to look for potential clues about heart disease risk. For example, is there inflammation? A blood test will also be done to look for things like proteins that could offer an answer. Participants are still being recruited, so if you’re interested, you can contact Katelyn at 416-480-5283.

The hope in studying teens is that the connection between heart disease and bipolar disorder will become more clear. Teens are typically in better physical condition, so any differences in, say, how the blood vessels work should be easier to spot. It’s also a pretty rare for specialists from the head, heart and imaging all come together for research, so what they find should be intriguing.

It’s been many years since I last saw Sue. Through family support, and the insistence of a senior editor at my old company, she eventually did get proper diagnosis and care for her bipolar disorder. The last I heard, she was doing well and enjoying married life with children. Hopefully, with ongoing research, more people like her can be helped in the future.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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