Loneliness and isolation increase risk of heart disease and stroke

by Bruce Sylvester: In high income countries, loneliness and social isolation appear to increase the risk of stroke or coronary artery disease by about 30 per cent, researchers reported on April 19, 2016 in the BMJ/British Medical Journal publication Heart.

“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,” the authors wrote. “Similar to how cardiologists and other healthcare professionals have taken strong public stances regarding other factors exacerbating [cardiovascular disease], e.g. 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 added.

The researchers searched 16 research databases for relevant studies, published up to May 2015. They found 23 studies eligible to be included in the meta-analysis.

These studies, which had enrolled over 181,000 adults, included 4,628 coronary heart disease ‘events’ (heart attacks, angina attacks, death) and 3,002 strokes, which manifested during follow-up of three to 21 years.

Loneliness/social isolation associated with a 29% increase in risk of a heart or angina attack and a 32% increase in risk of stroke. The effect is similar to established risk factors such as anxiety and job strain.

While the study was observational, the authors concluded   that, “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 added, “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?”