Are Patients with Chronic Infections at a Higher Risk for Suicide?


Robert Bransfield, MD, DLFAPA, explains why patients with chronic infections may be at increased risk for suicide.

Robert Bransfield, MD, DLFAPA, private practice, Psychiatry, in Red Bank, New Jersey, explains why patients with chronic infections are at increased risk for suicide.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability):

If we look at the question of whether infections are related to suicide, and look through the medical literature, there’s some literature on toxoplasmosis and suicide. And then, there was recently some research in Scandinavia, where they looked at a large database of patients, and patients who were recently hospitalized had a higher incidence of suicide. Also, people with pulmonary conditions, so it does appear that chronic infections correlated statistically with a higher rate of suicide, compared to people who, in a matched control, did not have these chronic infections.

That can be explained by the physiology. When someone has a chronic infection, it provokes the immune system, they’re in a more pro-inflammatory state, and that has a cascade of effects. Increasing, usually, quinolinic acid, which is neurotoxic and that can impact glutamate function, and, that in turn, seems to affect neural circuitry, with the orbitofrontal cortex, the cingulate, the amygdala circuit can then be impaired, and you see this correlation with infections, immune provocation, dysfunction of neural circuitry, and higher risk for suicide.

Of course, many things contribute to suicide, or deter us, or acutely trigger it, but this is one cause that we previously never paid attention to that we need to pay more attention to.”

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