How being lonely can trigger heart disease and strokes

Studies show a link between poor social relationships and major illness. Picture: PA
Studies show a link between poor social relationships and major illness. Picture: PA
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Being lonely and socially isolated can increase a person’s risk of heart disease or stroke, new research suggests.

The effect of loneliness on the heart is similar to that seen in people who suffer anxiety or have stressful jobs, experts found.

Researchers from the University of York, the University of Liverpool and Newcastle University reviewed evidence on the impact loneliness has on heart disease and stroke risk. They examined 23 studies, involving more than 181,000 adults, where 4,628 heart disease and 3,002 stroke “events” were recorded.

After analysing the data they found loneliness and isolation were associated with a 29 per cent increase in risk for coronary heart disease and a 32 per cent increase in risk of stroke.

“We found an association between poor social relationships and incident cardiovascular disease comparable in size to other recognised psychosocial risk factors, such as anxiety and job strain,” the authors wrote in the journal Heart.

“Our findings indicate that efforts to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke could benefit from taking both loneliness and social isolation into account. Tackling loneliness and isolation may be a valuable addition to coronary heart disease and stroke prevention strategies. Health practitioners have an important role to play in acknowledging the importance of social relations to their patients.”

Previous research has already linked loneliness and social isolation to premature death but until now the but the size of the associated risk to cardiovascular health was unclear.

Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Dr Timothy Smith from Brigham Young University in Utah, USA, said health workers should inform patients of the importance of social interaction “as part of a healthy lifestyle”.