Loneliness May Increase Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

country road tree canopy in the fogLoneliness may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%, according to a study published in Heart. The study analyzed previous research on loneliness involving data for more than 181,000 people.

How Loneliness Affects Heart Health

The researchers gathered a total of 23 previous studies, which included 4,628 episodes of coronary heart disease and 3,002 strokes. Sixteen of the studies were longitudinal, periodically following up with participants for periods of time ranging from three to 21 years.

People who reported poor social relationships or loneliness had a greater risk of cardiovascular health issues. Loneliness increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 29% and the risk of stroke by 32%. These risk factors are similar to those associated with light smoking, anxiety, and a stressful job. Loneliness was also a more significant risk factor for cardiovascular issues than either obesity or high blood pressure.

The researchers found no gender differences in outcomes, suggesting loneliness can be equally damaging to men and women.

Is Loneliness a Health Risk Factor?

Loneliness may be increasing. A 2009 study found 25% of respondents had no one with whom they discussed important topics, marking a 300% increase in loneliness between 1985 and 2004.

A number of recent studies have explored the effects of loneliness and isolation. One study found changes in gene expression in the immune system, suggesting loneliness may undermine immune function. Loneliness may also raise blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Other research suggests loneliness can decrease sleep quality, causing people to repeatedly wake during the night. Loneliness may also weaken memory and learning ability.

The effects of loneliness are not limited to humans. Even fruit flies who are isolated tend to live shorter, less healthy lives. This suggests contact with others might be a physiological need, not just a way to relax or pass the time.

References:

  1. Cornblatt, J. (2009, August 20). Lonely planet: Isolation increases in US. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/lonely-planet-isolation-increases-us-78647
  2. Gammon, K. (2012, March 2). Why loneliness can be deadly. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/18800-loneliness-health-problems.html
  3. Quinn, B. (2016, April 19). Loneliness linked to 30% increase in heart disease and stroke risk. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/apr/19/loneliness-linked-to-30-increase-in-heart-disease-and-stroke-risk
  4. Valtorta, N. K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S., & Hanratty, B. (2016). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: Systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2015-308790

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  • Audra

    Audra

    April 21st, 2016 at 11:53 AM

    hmmm then this could have something to do with why so many spouses who have been married for a long time die one right after the other. They are so accustomed to having one another aorund that once they have lost their life partner it feels impossible to overcome that sadness and loneliness that now they must feel. They literally lose their reason for living.

  • Oliver

    Oliver

    April 22nd, 2016 at 1:07 PM

    Very sad and yet the reality for many older couples with no other family besides each other

  • jeanna

    jeanna

    April 23rd, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    Don’t leave the elderly people in your life alone with no one to talk to. They want to share their lives with us and be a part of our lives, and it is sad that when they can no longer get out of the house or after something happens to a spouse that many of us forget about them. Sure they have their ailments and their complaints but they are FAMILY and we need to be there to help take care of them for as long as we have the opportunity to have them around.

  • Tucker

    Tucker

    April 25th, 2016 at 2:51 PM

    We like to think that we know all the answers and can prevent things from happening just by being in top health.’But there are clearly things that we are not considering and given the numbers it appears that these are things that are being so harmful to our health and that of the others in our lives whom we love. No one should have to die form being lonely and yet it happens every single day. There are always going to be other health factors that have to be taking into account but clearly there are other things that we would change and we are not doing even though it looks like this would have a great deal of positive impact on our overall well being.

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