Research News

Loneliness is associated with higher risk of stroke and heart disease, study finds

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 21 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2269
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

Loneliness and isolation are associated with a 30% higher risk of having a stroke or developing coronary heart disease, shows a review of available evidence that found a similar effect to that of other recognised risk factors such as anxiety or having a stressful job.1

The negative effect of a lack of social interaction and relationships on morbidity is widely accepted, but their impact on the development of cardiovascular disease is less clear.

Researchers investigated this by systematically reviewing all longitudinal studies in high income countries and looking at the association of loneliness or social isolation with incident coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke. They reviewed 16 longitudinal datasets including 181 000 adults and found 4628 CHD and 3002 stroke events during follow-up periods of 3-21 years in different studies.

The results, published in the journal Heart, showed that having poor social relationships—defined as a negative perception of having deficient relationships with others—was associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD (pooled relative risk 1.29 (95% confidence interval 1.04 to 1.59)).

People who considered that they had poor social relationships also had a 32% higher risk of stroke (1.32 (1.04 to 1.68)). Subgroup analyses showed no differences between genders.

“Our findings suggest that deficiencies in social relationship are associated with an increased risk of developing CHD and stroke,” said the researchers, led by Nicole Valtorta, of the University of York, UK. They added, “Our findings indicate that efforts to reduce the risk of CHD and stroke could benefit from taking both loneliness and social isolation into account.”

In an accompanying editorial Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith, of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, USA, said, “With the projected increases in levels of social isolation and loneliness in Europe and North America, medical science needs to squarely address the ramifications for physical health.”2


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