Loneliness and isolation linked to heightened risk of heart disease / stroke

April 19, 2016, British Medical Journal
heart
Human heart. Credit: copyright American Heart Association

Loneliness and social isolation are linked to around a 30 per cent increased risk of having a stroke or developing coronary artery disease—the two leading causes of illness and death in high income countries—finds an analysis of the available evidence, published online in the journal Heart.

The size of the effect is comparable to that of other recognised , such as anxiety and a stressful job, the findings indicate.

Loneliness has already been linked to a compromised immune system, , and ultimately, , but it's not clear what impact it might have on heart disease and stroke risk.

The researchers trawled 16 research databases for relevant studies, published up to May 2015, and found 23 that were eligible.

These studies, which involved more than 181,000 adults, included 4628 'events' (heart attacks, angina attacks, death) and 3002 strokes recorded during monitoring periods ranging from three to 21 years.

Analysis of the pooled data showed that loneliness/ was associated with a 29% increased risk of a heart or angina attack and a 32% heightened risk of having a stroke.

The effect size was comparable to that of other recognised psychosocial risk factors, such as anxiety and job strain, the analysis indicated.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, added to which the researchers point out that it wasn't possible to exclude the potential impact of other unmeasured factors or reverse causation—whereby those with undiagnosed disease were less sociable, so inflating the findings.

Nevertheless, the findings back public health concerns about the importance of social contacts for health and wellbeing, say the researchers.

"Our work suggests that addressing loneliness and social isolation may have an important role in the prevention of two of the leading causes of morbidity in high income countries," they write.

In a linked editorial, Drs Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith of Brigham Young University, Utah, USA, agree, pointing out that social factors should be included in medical education, individual risk assessment, and in guidelines and policies applied to populations and the delivery of health services.

But one of the greatest challenges will be how to design effective interventions to boost social connections, taking account of technology, they say.

"With such rapid changes in the way people are interacting socially, empirical research is needed to address several important questions. Does interacting socially via technology reduce or replace face to face social interaction and/or alter social skills?" they ask.

"Given projected increases in levels of social isolation and loneliness in Europe and North America, medical science needs to squarely address the ramifications for physical health," they write.

"Similar to how cardiologists and other healthcare professionals have taken strong public stances regarding other factors exacerbating [cardiovascular disease], eg smoking, and diets high in saturated fats, further attention to social connections is needed in research and public health surveillance, prevention and intervention efforts," they conclude.

Explore further: Prescription for living longer: Spend less time alone

More information: Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies, DOI: 10.1136/heartjnl-2015-308790

Editorial: Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for CVD: implications for evidence based patient care and scientific enquiry, doi: 10/1136/heartjnl-2015-309242

Related Stories

Prescription for living longer: Spend less time alone

March 11, 2015
Ask people what it takes to live a long life, and they'll say things like exercise, take Omega-3s, and see your doctor regularly.

Death of partner linked to heightened risk of irregular heartbeat for up to a year later

April 5, 2016
The death of a partner is linked to a heightened risk of developing an irregular heartbeat otherwise known as atrial fibrillation—itself a risk factor for stroke and heart failure—for up to a year afterwards, finds research ...

Isolation, loneliness may raise death risk for elderly

March 25, 2013
(HealthDay)—Elderly people who are socially isolated and lonely may be at greater risk of early death, British researchers report.

Controlling blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol linked to lower cardiovascular disease

April 6, 2016
While controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and LDL-cholesterol levels reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes, only 7 percent of diabetic participants in three major heart studies had recommended ...

Social networks as important as exercise and diet across the span of our lives, research finds

January 4, 2016
The more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginnings and ends of their lives, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study is the first ...

Recommended for you

The molecular mechanism underlying hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

August 20, 2018
A study led by Stanford Medicine researchers shows why so many mutations associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder, alter a key constituent of muscle cells in a way that makes it work overtime.

Chagas disease, caused by a parasite, has spread outside of Latin America and carries a high risk of heart disease

August 20, 2018
Chagas disease, caused by infection with a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T cruzi), causes chronic heart disease in about one third of those infected. Over the past 40 years, Chagas disease has spread to areas where it ...

As body mass index increases, blood pressure may as well

August 17, 2018
Body mass index is positively associated with blood pressure, according to the ongoing study of 1.7 million Chinese men and women being conducted by researchers at the Yale Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation (CORE) ...

Gout could increase heart disease risk

August 17, 2018
Having a type of inflammatory arthritis called gout may worsen heart-related outcomes for people being treated for coronary artery disease, according to new research.

Stroke patients treated at a teaching hospital are less likely to be readmitted

August 17, 2018
Stroke patients appear to receive better care at teaching hospitals with less of a chance of landing back in a hospital during the early stages of recovery, according to new research from The University of Texas Health Science ...

Cardiovascular disease related to type 2 diabetes can be reduced significantly

August 16, 2018
Properly composed treatment and refraining from cigarette consumption can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease resulting from type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the New England Journal of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.