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Borderline Personality Disorder Brings Middle-Age Heart Risks

Emerging research suggests middle-aged adults who show symptoms of borderline personality disorder should be screened for cardiovascular risks. Investigators discovered that this particular mental health disorder may, in middle age, be linked to physical signs of worsening cardiovascular health.

“Although borderline personality disorder is well studied for its relationship to psychological and social impairments, recent research has suggested it may also contribute to physical health risks,” said Whitney Ringwald MSW, MS, of the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study.

“Our study suggests that the effects of this disorder on heart health are large enough that clinicians treating patients should recommend monitoring their cardiovascular health.”

The study appears in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment.

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors, and extreme emotional reactions. Their inability to manage emotions often makes it hard for people with borderline personality disorder to finish school, keep a job, or maintain stable, healthy relationships.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1.4 percent of adults have BPD, but that number does not include those with less severe symptoms who nevertheless may experience clinically significant impairments, said Aidan Wright, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh and another author of the study.

“It can be challenging to treat BPD because you are seeking to change a person’s longstanding patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are very well ingrained,” he said. “There are several evidence-based treatment options that can be helpful, so there are many reasons to be optimistic, but treatment may take a long time.”

The researchers analyzed health data from 1,295 participants in the University of Pittsburgh Adult Health and Behavior Project. This is a registry of behavioral and biological measurements from non-Hispanic white and African American adults, 30 to 50 years old, recruited between 2001 and 2005 in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Investigators looked at self-reported basic personality traits, as well as those reported by up to two of the participants’ friends or family members, and self-reported symptoms of depression. By combining several physical health measurements, including blood pressure, body mass index and the levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and other compounds in the blood after a 12-hour fast, the researchers established a relative cardiovascular risk score for each participant.

They found a significant association between borderline personality traits and increased cardiovascular risk. The researchers also looked at the potential role of depression, as people with BPD are also often depressed. While borderline personality traits and depression were both significantly associated with cardiovascular risk, the effect of borderline traits was independent of depression symptoms.

“We were surprised by the strength of the effect and we found it particularly interesting that our measure of borderline personality pathology had a larger effect, and a unique effect above and beyond depression, in predicting heart disease,” said Wright.

“There is a large focus on depression in physical health, and these findings suggest there should be an increased focus on personality traits, too.”

The researchers said their findings have important implications for primary care doctors and mental health professionals who treat patients with BPD.

“Mental health practitioners may want to screen for cardiovascular risk in their patients with BPD, ” said Wright.

“When discussing the implications of a personality disorder diagnosis with patients, practitioners may want to emphasize the link with negative health outcomes and possibly suggest exercise and lifestyle changes if indicated. Primary care physicians should attend to personality as a risk factor when monitoring patients for long-term health as well.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Borderline Personality Disorder Brings Middle-Age Heart Risks

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Borderline Personality Disorder Brings Middle-Age Heart Risks. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/11/08/borderline-personality-disorder-brings-middle-age-heart-risks/151433.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Nov 2019 (Originally: 8 Nov 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Nov 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.