• Luli Faber

Scientific studies show that social isolation or loneliness are risk factors for cardiovascular heal


Two studies have come out recently - one last year and one earlier this year - that combined previous research looking at the effect of social isolation or loneliness on the likelihood of premature mortality, or contracting coronary heart disease or a stroke. Both studies found found a strong link between the two, with the risk of contracting a cardiovascular problem or premature mortality with social isolation or loneliness as high as light smoking or obesity.

This provides another piece of evidence tying together emotional pain and physical illness.

It's not yet known whether socialising through social media is protective, but doctors are now recommending that this be taken into account as part of treatment programs (see here).

The study about social isolation and mortality was published in the journal Perspectives On Psychological Sciences last year, and can be found here. This is the abstract:

"Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality. In this meta-analytic review, our objective is to establish the overall and relative magnitude of social isolation and loneliness and to examine possible moderators. We conducted a literature search of studies (January 1980 to February 2014) using MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Social Work Abstracts, and Google Scholar. The included studies provided quantitative data on mortality as affected by loneliness, social isolation, or living alone. Across studies in which several possible confounds were statistically controlled for, the weighted average effect sizes were as follows: social isolation odds ratio (OR) = 1.29, loneliness OR = 1.26, and living alone OR = 1.32, corresponding to an average of 29%, 26%, and 32% increased likelihood of mortality, respectively. We found no differences between measures of objective and subjective social isolation. Results remain consistent across gender, length of follow-up, and world region, but initial health status has an influence on the findings. Results also differ across participant age, with social deficits being more predictive of death in samples with an average age younger than 65 years. Overall, the influence of both objective and subjective social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality."

The study on social isolation and cardiovascular disease was published in the journal Heart earlier this year, and this is the abstract of the paper, which can be found in full here:

"Background

The influence of social relationships on morbidity is widely accepted, but the size of the risk to cardiovascular health is unclear.

Objective

We undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to investigate the association between loneliness or social isolation and incident coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.

Methods

Sixteen electronic databases were systematically searched for longitudinal studies set in high-income countries and published up until May 2015. Two independent reviewers screened studies for inclusion and extracted data. We assessed quality using a component approach and pooled data for analysis using random effects models.

Results

Of the 35 925records retrieved, 23 papers met inclusion criteria for the narrative review. They reported data from 16 longitudinal datasets, for a total of 4628 CHD and 3002 stroke events recorded over follow-up periods ranging from 3 to 21 years. Reports of 11 CHD studies and 8 stroke studies provided data suitable for meta-analysis. Poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD (pooled relative risk: 1.29, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.59) and a 32% increase in risk of stroke (pooled relative risk: 1.32, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.68). Subgroup analyses did not identify any differences by gender.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that deficiencies in social relationships are associated with an increased risk of developing CHD and stroke. Future studies are needed to investigate whether interventions targeting loneliness and social isolation can help to prevent two of the leading causes of death and disability in high-income countries."

#stroke #heartdisease #socialisolation #loneliness #mortality