A homeless person with mental illness has a 24.5 per cent chance of having a heart attack, a fatal or non-fatal stroke or sudden cardiac death over 30 years, said Dr. Agnes Gozdzik, a research associate in the Center for Research in Inner City Health of St. Michael’s Hospital.
That compares to a 10.1 per cent risk for the “ideal person” of the same age and gender who does not smoke or have diabetes, and who has normal blood pressure and body mass index, Dr. Gozdzik wrote in a study published in the journal BMC Public Health.
She found the risk was significantly greater among men than women and was higher among those with a substance abuse problem.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death among homeless people, probably because they have a high rate of traditional risk factors such as smoking or undiagnosed or untreated hypertension, diabetes or high cholesterol, combined with the stress and low socio-economic status associated with homelessness. Dr. Gozdzik, who has a PhD in public health, said substance abuse and mental illness, which are both associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, are also found at disproportionately high rates among homeless people compared to the general population.
“Many of the factors that we thought would be associated with the 30-year cardiovascular risk among homeless adults with mental illness were actually not significant, such as not having a family doctor or having a diagnosis of psychosis or having a higher need for mental health services,” said Dr. Gozdzik. “However, if you are homeless and having a mental illness and are a male or have a substance use disorder, your risk of 30-year cardiovascular disease appears to be much higher even if you may not show the typical other predictors such as high BMI or hypertension, etc.. This is something that clinicians who work with this population should be aware of.”
Dr. Gozdzik’s study looked at 352 people in Toronto who were enrolled in the At Home/Chez Soi Project, a randomized trial of a Housing First initiative among homeless adults with mental illness. She said that while previous studies have looked at the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease among the homeless population, she felt that was not a long enough period of time to take into account the impact of changed behavior, such as stopping smoking.
Population of focus: Homeless adults with mental illness in Toronto
Links to resource:
Journal: BMC Public Health