If being lonely wasn’t bad enough, well, now it can actually kill you.
Loneliness and social isolation have always been linked to high blood pressure, a poor immune system, and early death, but the correlation between heart problems and stroke wasn’t always clear. Until now.
London researchers scoured 16 research databases and discovered 23 studies on that exact topic. The studies involved more than 180,000 adults who had been monitored between the ages of three and 21 years (depending on the specific study).
Of the 180,000 participants, 4,600 had coronary heart disease episodes, including heart attacks, angina attack, death, and more than 3,000 suffered from a stroke. Further analysis found that those who lacked social contact or felt unhappy with their relationships were 29 percent more likely to have these so-called heart episodes and 31 percent more likely to have a stroke.
Although the study did find a strong correlation between loneliness and heart-health problems, it is important to note that the study does not support causation. However, researchers said the findings do support “public health concerns about the importance of social connectedness for health and well-being.”
Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Dr. Timothy Smith of Brigham Young University said the findings “are consistent with substantial research indicating broad health risks” and wish social connectedness were apart of medical education, individual risk assessments, and guidelines for providers who are delivering care. They noted these types of “effective interventions” would be challenging because of today’s reliance on technology and social media.
The rapid changes in the way people are interacting socially, empirical research is needed to address several important questions. Such as, does interacting socially via technology reduce or replace face to face social interaction and/or alter social skills? The researchers wondered.
They aren’t certain.
But the researchers do feel that loneliness and social isolation need to be taken seriously and added to the factors that cause cardiovascular disease. They noted that loneliness is just as serious as smoking and consuming a diet high in saturated fats.
“Further attention to social connections is needed in research and public health surveillance, prevention and intervention efforts,” wrote the authors.