Individuals with schizophrenia who are experiencing a relapse are 29 times more likely than healthy individuals to develop a urinary tract infection, according to researchers at Georgia Regents University.
Schizophrenia is a rare but serious psychiatric disorder, usually beginning in late adolescence, and is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, cognitive impairment, social withdrawal, self-neglect and loss of motivation and initiative.
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are common but patients hospitalized for schizophrenia are far more likely to have a UTI than healthy individuals or even others whose illness is under control, said Dr. Brian J. Miller, psychiatrist and schizophrenia expert at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.
The researchers looked at UTI rates in 57 relapsed hospitalized patients, 40 stable outpatients and 39 healthy controls. They found that 35 percent of the relapsed patients had UTIs versus 5 and 3 percent, respectively, of the other groups.
During a relapse, delusions and symptoms can hinder good hygiene and proper hydration, increasing the risk of UTIs. However, Miller said UTIs could be the trigger.
A link between infection and brain disorder relapse has also been found in dementia, in which a significant percentage of patients with increasingly aggressive behavior and psychotic symptoms have a UTI that, when treated, improves dementia-related problems.
It’s clear that the immune system plays a role in schizophrenia, which affects about 1 percent of the population, said the researchers. Babies born to mothers who develop a severe infection during pregnancy, such as influenza or pneumonia, have a significantly greater risk of developing schizophrenia.
Miller and others suspect that the mother’s infection somehow reprograms the baby’s immune system, making its reactions more extreme — more aggressive at times and more passive at other times. This leaves the individual vulnerable to both infections and autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, in which the body’s immune system attacks itself.
On average, schizophrenia patients die 15-20 years earlier than the general population, have an eight-fold increased risk of death from pneumonia and nearly five percent greater risk of death from all infectious diseases.
Source: Georgia Regents University