A new study indicates that people who identify as feeling lonely are 29% more likely to develop heart disease, CNN says. Social isolation and loneliness are already known to cause or worsen health problems, but the new research suggests that these feelings can cause health problems all on their own.
Researchers at the University of York combined data from 23 different studies, including 180,000 adults in high-income countries, to reach their conclusion. Looking at the participants’ levels of loneliness and feelings of isolation, researchers monitored the subjects for at least three and up to 21 years to see if they developed heart diseases or had a stroke. Lo and behold, they were.
“We know from other studies that people who are lonely or isolated are less likely to recover from illness,” said Nicole K. Valtorta, the lead author of this particular study, published in the Heart journal. In addition to the significantly increased likelihood of developing heart disease, lonely participants were also 32% more likely to have a stroke, regardless of gender.
Healthcare systems and social services do have practices in place to help people who suffer from loneliness and isolation, but one of the core tenets of the University of York study is to say that if these feelings directly lead to serious health problems, then more practices will be implemented to help prevent and treat these problems before they become so dire.
Just sadness and stress can raise blood pressure and inflammation, and if left alone or allowed to increase over time, they will contribute to other health problems. Though Valtorta was not able to say for certain whether loneliness and social isolation could be separately associated with risk of heart disease and stroke, she says that if patients suffer both, they will be more at risk for developing problems.
“I would suspect that if you are both, it is going to be associated with the highest risk, and if you are one or the other, it is going to be associated with the intermediate risk,” she says.