Loneliness can be a real heartbreaker

By Sidney Murphy HealthDay Reporter
Reporter for HealthDay

FRIDAY, AUG. 5, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Social isolation and loneliness puts people at a 30% higher risk of heart attack, blow or death from both, warns a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA).

The statement also highlighted the lack of data on interventions that could improve heart health in isolated or lonely people. It was published on Aug. 4 c Journal of the American Heart Association .

“Over four decades of research has clearly shown that social isolation and loneliness are associated with adverse health outcomes,” said Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené, who leads the team, wrote the statement. “Given the prevalence of social isolation in the US, the public health impact is quite significant.”

Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults age 65 and older are socially isolated, and 47 percent may be lonely, according to the AHA. The risk increases with age due to factors such as retirement and widowhood.

But a Harvard University study suggests the loneliest generation is Gen Z — the 18- to 22-year-olds — who may also be the most isolated. A possible reason: They spend more time on social media and less time engaged in meaningful personal activities.

And on a pandemic it seems to have made things worse among the younger and older, as well as women and the poor.

“Although social isolation and feelings of loneliness are related, they are not the same thing,” said Sene, chief administrator for health equity, diversity and inclusion at UC San Diego Health. “Individuals can lead relatively isolated lives and not feel lonely, and conversely, people with a lot of social contact can still experience loneliness.”

Social isolation means infrequent face-to-face contact with people for social relationships, such as family, friends, or members of the same community or religious group. Loneliness is when you feel alone or have less connection with others than you would like.

To examine the relationship between social isolation and heart, blood vessel, and brain health, the author team reviewed research on social isolation published through July 2021. The review found:

  • Social isolation and loneliness are common but underappreciated factors that affect the heart, blood vessels and brain.
  • Lack of social connections is associated with a higher risk of premature death from any cause, especially in men.
  • People who were less socially connected were more likely to exhibit physical symptoms of chronic stress. Isolation and loneliness are linked to increased inflammation.
  • When assessing risk factors for social isolation, it is important to remember that depression can cause isolation, and isolation can make depression more likely.
  • Childhood social isolation is associated with increased risk factors for heart health, including obesity, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels.
  • Transportation, housing, family dissatisfaction, pandemics, and natural disasters are a few social and environmental factors that affect social interactions.

“There is strong evidence linking social isolation and loneliness to an increased risk of poor heart and brain health in general; however, the data link to certain results, such as heart failuredementia and cognitive impairment are rare,” Sene said.

The strongest evidence points to a link between social isolation, loneliness and death from heart disease and stroke, with a 32% higher risk of stroke and death from stroke and a 29% higher risk of heart attack.

“Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with a worse prognosis in people who already have coronary heart disease or stroke,” Cené said.

Along with behaviors that have detrimental effects on heart and brain health, isolation and loneliness are associated with lower levels of self-reported physical activity and lower fruit and vegetable intake. Additionally, multiple large studies have found significant associations between loneliness and a greater likelihood of smoking.

“There is an urgent need to develop, implement, and evaluate programs and strategies to reduce the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular and brain health, particularly for at-risk populations,” Cené said in an AHA news release.

She said clinicians should ask patients about their social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interaction with friends and family.

“They should then be prepared to refer people who are socially isolated or lonely — especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke — to community resources to help them connect with others,” she added.

The authors say more research is needed to understand how isolation affects heart and brain health in children and young people; people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups; LGBTQ people; people with physical or hearing disabilities; those in rural areas; and people with limited resources.

The statement noted that studies of older adults have found that interventions targeting negative thoughts and low self-esteem, as well as fitness programs and recreational activities in senior centers, have shown promise in reducing isolation and loneliness.

“It’s not clear if he’s really isolated [social isolation] or feeling isolated [loneliness] has the greatest relevance for cardiovascular and brain health, as only a few studies have examined both in the same sample,” Cené said, adding that more research is needed.

More info

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the health risks of loneliness.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, August. 3, 2022

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.