What Is the Life Expectancy for People With Bipolar Disorder?

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Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging enough. However, learning that having bipolar disorder has the potential to reduce life expectancy can be quite distressing.

While it’s true that studies have found a reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder, it’s not all gloom and doom. There are things you can do to live a long, healthy, and thriving life.

Here's what to know about life expectancy for bipolar disorder: what the studies say, what can cause reduced life expectancies, and what you can do to live a full life.

What Does the Research Say About Life Expectancy With Bipolar Disorder?

Studies give varying numbers on life expectancy among people with bipolar disorder, but all note a reduction in years lived and a predisposition toward an earlier death.

Several studies have found a reduction in life expectancy by about 11 to 20 years for people with bipolar disorder. A 2015 study found that these estimates may be too high, though. This study estimated life expectancy among 25 to 45-year-olds with bipolar disorder to be reduced by about 12.0-8.7 years in males and 10.6-8.3 years in females. Interestingly, life expectancy reduction decreased the older a person got, with the highest risk being in early and middle adulthood.

It's important to note that life expectancy is thought to be reduced for all types of severe mental illness, not just bipolar disorder.

A team from Oxford University found that severe mental illness generally reduced expectancy by 10 to 20 years, and noted that life expectancy among people with mental illness is slightly more than that of the reduced life expectancy among smokers, which is about 8 to 10 years.

The researchers estimated life expectancy to be reduced by 10 to 20 years in people with schizophrenia, 9 to 24 years in people with substance abuse disorders, and 7 to 11 years among people with recurring depression. Their estimate for people with bipolar disorder was a reduction in life expectancy between 9 and 20 years.

What Factors Influence Life Expectancy in Bipolar Disorder?

There are several factors that are thought to make people with bipolar disorder more likely to live shorter lives.

Suicide Risk

The first is that people with bipolar disorder have an increased risk of suicide and suicide attempts. People with bipolar disorder cycle between manic (or hypomanic) episodes and depressive episodes. The depressive episodes can be severe and come with a heightened risk of suicide. It’s estimated that between 25% and 60% of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide at least once, and between 4% and 19% die by suicide.

Living with bipolar can also exacerbate certain common health issues and lead to early death. Health issues associated with bipolar disease include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Flu and pneumonia

A 2013 study published in JAMA describes a few potential reasons why people with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience these health conditions and die from them earlier than others. For example:

  • People with bipolar disorder may be less likely than the general population to seek out and receive preventative medical care and screenings
  • They may be more likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking and substance abuse
  • They may be more likely to be obese
  • People with bipolar disorder may experience more inflammation, oxidative stress, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction, all of which may contribute to the increase in the risk of developing these conditions
  • Certain genetic attributes may make people with bipolar disorder more likely to have these health conditions
  • It’s possible that certain medications (antipsychotics and other psychotropic drugs) used to treat bipolar disorder increase rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other metabolic conditions

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Live a Longer Life With Bipolar Disorder

Learning that bipolar disorder is associated with a shorter life expectancy can be alarming. If you are someone who has bipolar disorder, you may feel despair, anger, sadness, and hopelessness. These feelings are understandable, and you should check in with your mental health provider if learning about these statistics is triggering for you.

But with knowledge comes power, and the truth is that many people with bipolar disorder live healthy, full, and long lives. The key is getting proper and consistent treatment.

Make Your Health a Priority

Researchers have estimated that adopting healthier habits, utilizing all healthcare that’s available to you, and addressing any life circumstances that may exacerbate your condition, can increase your life expectancy by at least 4 to 6 years.

It’s vital to understand that bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness, which means that you need to be treated for it for the rest of your life. Many people with bipolar disorder start to feel better after treatment and then opt to go off treatment. Others enjoy the “highs” of bipolar disorder and don’t want to treat those.

The problem is that untreated bipolar disorder has serious consequences, including suicide, engagement in risky behaviors, and an increased propensity toward serious health conditions.

Tips for Living With Bipolar Disorder

Here's what you can do to increase your quality of life and increase the chances that you will live a longer life as a person with bipolar disorder:

  • Make sure to stay in touch consistently with your care team, and go to all of your therapy, medical, and psychiatric appointments
  • Continue taking your prescribed medication
  • Touch base with your care team if you are planning to take any other prescribed or over-the-counter medications
  • Check in with your care team if you are experiencing side effects from your medications or if your symptoms have worsened
  • Maintain a consistent sleep and wake schedule
  • Eat regular meals and try to make healthy food choices
  • Exercise and move your body regularly
  • Refrain from drinking alcohol or using other illicit drugs
  • Gather a strong support network of family and friends who understand what you struggle with and can help you in times of need

A Word From Verywell

If you are someone who has bipolar disorder and you are concerned about your life expectancy, it’s vital to keep things in perspective. Not everyone with bipolar disorder has a shortened life span, and there are concrete steps you can take to reduce the likelihood. Still, you should take the risks seriously, and make sure to stay in touch with your care team so that you are supported in taking the steps necessary to stay well.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  7. U.S. Department Health & Human Services. Living Well with Bipolar Disorder.