A new Finnish study discovers that in men, a high resting heart rate and high blood pressure in late adolescence may be associated with an increased risk for development of a psychiatric disorder.
The findings appear in a new article published online by JAMA Psychiatry.
Investigators explain that many mental health disorders have been found to be associated with abnormalities in heart function and blood pressure. Heart rate and blood pressure are regulated by the autonomic nervous system which controls the body’s basic functions.
However, there has previously been no comprehensive research on whether discrepancies in the function of the autonomic nervous system could precede the onset of psychiatric illnesses.
Antti Latvala, Ph.D., of the University of Helsinki, Finland, and coauthors used heart rate and blood pressure data for Swedish men when they entered into the military (average age of 18), from 1969 to 2010. They then examined whether differences in cardiac autonomic function were associated with psychiatric disorders.
Analyses based on up to 45 years of follow-up data suggest men in their late teens with resting heart rates above 82 beats per minute, compared with those whose resting heart rates were below 62 beats per minute, had:
- a 69 percent increased risk for later obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD);
- a 21 percent increased risk for schizophrenia;
- and an 18 percent increased risk for anxiety disorders.
The authors reported similar associations for blood pressure.
The study considered several factors that could contribute to the connection, such as BMI, socioeconomic status, ethnic background, cognitive ability as well as physical fitness measured through an exercise test.
However, these factors did not fully account for the correlation between psychiatric disorders and heart rate or blood pressure. The average follow-up period was 32 years.
The study also shows that low resting heart rate was linked to an increased risk of substance abuse and convictions for violent crimes.
“These results are interesting, because they provide new information on the role of the autonomic nervous system in psychiatric disorders,” said Latvala, who led the project.
Latvala pointed out that the mechanisms underlying this connection still require a great deal of further study.
“Our observations indicate that differences in physiological responses, such as stress reactions, are linked to the risk of mental disorders. It is also known that psychiatric illnesses are associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Our results open new opportunities for studying this connection as well,” Latvala said.
Despite the findings, the authors note their results do not establish a cause and effect relationship.
“These associations should be confirmed in other longitudinal studies, and the underlying mechanisms should be studied with more detailed measures of autonomic functioning and designs that can more clearly elucidate causal processes,” the researchers said.
Source: University of Helsinki