Loneliness 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.
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- Gammon, K. (2012, March 2). Why loneliness can be deadly. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/18800-loneliness-health-problems.html
- 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
- 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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