Loneliness could be linked to heart disease in older women, ten-year research project shows
- The study, conducted by the University of California, followed 57,000 women
- Lead author Dr Golaszewski said social isolation and loneliness are not the same
- Someone could feel lonely while surrounded by people, or happy while alone
- Respondents who reported feeling lonely had higher incidence of heart disease
Loneliness increases the risk of older women developing potentially deadly heart problems, a study has found.
Scientists looked at data from 57,000 women over the age of 65 who were followed for nearly a decade.
The subjects were asked about their level of loneliness and social isolation, and this was compared with rates of heart disease.
The study found that women who were both lonely and isolated were between 13 and 27 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease.
The research, published in the journal Jama, warned that increased isolation caused by Covid-19 and lockdowns may have put more older women at risk of heart problems.
The study, conducted by the University of California, followed a sample of 57,000 postmenopausal women for almost a decade, concluding that there was a higher incidence of heart disease in the lonelier respondents
Lead author Dr Natalie Golaszewski, from the University of California, said: ‘We are social beings.
‘In this time of Covid-19, many people are experiencing social isolation and loneliness, which may spiral into chronic states.
‘It is important to further understand the acute and long-term effects these experiences have on cardiovascular health and overall well-being.’
She explained that social isolation and loneliness are ‘mildly correlated’ and can occur at the same time, but they are not mutually exclusive.
For example, a socially isolated person does not always feel lonely while a person can still experience loneliness even if they see lots of friends and family.
Co-author Dr John Bellettiere said: ‘Social isolation is about physically being away from people, like not touching or seeing or talking to other people.
‘Loneliness is a feeling, one that can be experienced even by people who are regularly in contact with others.’
He added that social isolation and loneliness were a ‘growing public health concern’ as they are associated with health problems including obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Heart disease causes a quarter of all deaths in the UK, more than 160,000 each year.
There are 3.6million women living with heart disease in the UK.
The new study involved more than 57,000 postmenopausal American women who had previously responded to questionnaires assessing social isolation from 2011 to 2012.
They were sent a second questionnaire assessing loneliness and social support between 2014 and 2015.
The participants were followed from the time of the questionnaire completion through to 2019 or when they were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
A total of 1,599 of the participants experienced the potentially deadly heart problems.
Loneliness in the general population is also linked to poor pulmonary health.
The British Heart Foundation recognises ‘an association between social isolation and increased risk of dying’.
Research in 2016 by the University of York found loneliness and poor relationships were associated with a 32 per cent increase in the risk of a stroke.