Loneliness and isolation can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, according to research published in the journal Heart.
Researchers from the universities of Liverpool, Newcastle and York looked at 23 studies involving over 180,000 adults. During the study period 3,000 of the participants had a stroke, and there were 4,628 cases of coronary heart disease.
The effect of loneliness on the heart is similar to that experienced by anxiety sufferers, and people with stressful jobs. They found that loneliness is associated with a 29 per cent increase in risk of heart disease, and a 32 per cent increase in risk of stroke.
The study expands on previous research that demonstrated a link between loneliness and early death, by quantifying the extent of the increased risk.
Nicole Valtorta, the study’s lead author, said: ‘We found an association between poor social relationships and incidence of cardiovascular disease comparable in size to other recognised psychosocial risk factors, such as anxiety and job strain.
‘Our findings indicate that efforts to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke could benefit from taking both loneliness and social isolation into account, as we found no evidence to suggest that one was more strongly related to disease incidence than the other.’
The real question raised by this meta-analysis is what are we going to do about it. We can speculate that there are likely to be many factors causing this increased risk, including lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. The study mentions interventions into loneliness and isolation, but it is unclear what these could be, or how efficacious they may be in reducing the risk. Perhaps this should be an area of study to explore further.
Research score: 3/5