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Many Chronic Illnesses Linked to Suicide Risk

TUESDAY, June 20, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- People with chronic health problems seem to have a higher risk of suicide, a new study suggests.

And, for certain conditions -- such as traumatic brain injury -- the risk is much higher, the study authors said.

Researchers looked at nearly 2,700 people in the United States who died by suicide between 2000 and 2013. The investigators identified 17 medical conditions linked to increased odds of suicide.

These included: asthma, back pain, brain injury, cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disorder, migraine, Parkinson's disease, psychogenic pain, sleep disorders and stroke.

While all of these conditions were associated with increased suicide risk, the connection was much stronger for some. For example, the risk was nine times higher among people with a traumatic brain injury and two times higher among those with sleep disorders and HIV/AIDS.

"Although suicide risk appears to be pervasive across most physical health conditions, prevention efforts appear to be particularly important for patients with a traumatic brain injury, whose odds of suicide are increased nearly ninefold," said lead investigator Brian Ahmedani. He is director of psychiatry research at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

Having more than one chronic health problem also substantially increased the risk of suicide, the findings showed.

Although the research found a link between chronic physical conditions and suicide, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study was published online June 12 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"These data represent among the first findings from areas across the U.S. documenting an increase in suicide risk for people with a variety of major physical health conditions," Ahmedani said in a journal news release.

"As our nation's health care systems work diligently to provide the best care for their patients, these data help support the need for suicide prevention among those with a wide variety of physical health conditions," he added.

Primary care doctors and specialists may have an important role to play in preventing suicides, according to the researchers.

The study authors noted that 80 percent of people who die by suicide make a health care visit in the year before their death. Half see a doctor in the four weeks before their death. Because most of these patients don't have a diagnosed mental health problem, limiting suicide prevention efforts to mental health care may leave many people who are at risk overlooked.

"Several conditions, such as back pain, sleep disorders and traumatic brain injury, were all associated with suicide risk and are commonly diagnosed, making patients with these conditions primary targets for suicide prevention," Ahmedani said.

"Given that nearly every physical health condition was associated with suicide, widespread suicide prevention efforts in all health care settings seem warranted," he concluded.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on suicide prevention.

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, news release, June 12, 2017

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