It is mostly acknowledged that social isolation leads to loneliness, which invariably triggers the onset of some of the more debilitating mental illnesses in most people. However, a new study has revealed that lonely people may also be prone to much more life-threatening conditions, namely coronary heart-disease and stroke. A new study published recently in the journal Heart has uncovered this potentially deadly link.
An extensive amount of data from a succession of observational studies covering nearly 190,000 adult men and women was examined including their respective medical history of cardiovascular impairments, as well as strokes, over a span of 20 years. Follow-up assessments were subsequently carried out on these groups, in which researchers mapped out their respective levels of social isolation and loneliness. Findings of this longitudinal study brought to light some extraordinary observations, suggesting that the risk of death from heart-disease and stroke increased by massive 30 percent and 32 percent, respectively, in groups with a tendency for such risk factors.
The study concluded that social isolation and a prolonged sense of loneliness were potential risk factors for heart-disease as well as strokes in the samples covered. The group study had meticulously analyzed individual social behaviors and then correlated these with medical histories based on both fatal and non-fatal stroke-related incidents and cardiovascular events.
According to Nicole K. Valtorta, University of York in England researcher and lead author of the study, the findings underscore the need to invest in future studies in order to clearly establish whether addressing common mental health issues namely social isolation and loneliness could drastically prevent one of the two major causes of death and disability around the world.
“People have tended to focus from a policy point of view at targeting lonely people to make them more connected. Our study shows that if this is a risk factor, then we should be trying to prevent the risk factor in the first place.”
A number of previous studies have linked both loneliness, as well as social isolation, with increased risk of heart-disease and mortality. While some studies seem to suggest that the two act independently, rather than in tandem, towards the risk, as a sense of loneliness may sometimes be preceded much earlier by behaviors characterized by social withdrawal. Other studies have established a palpable link between isolation and higher mortality, particularly in older adults but largely independent of the emotional sense of loneliness.
Either way, experts concur that reducing both social isolation and loneliness is equally imperative for a healthy lifestyle, longevity, and emotional well-being, as the disruption of social bonds in people constitutes major emotional stress. Despite varying human response behaviors to isolation and loneliness, they nonetheless constitute serious risks for morbidity and mortality.
According to Public Health expert Viola Vaccarino, young women are evidently more susceptible to emotional stress and, by extension, the medical conditions — namely heart-disease — that may be triggered by it.
“Emerging evidence suggests that young women are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of stress on the heart, which may result in earlier onset of heart-disease or more negative health outcomes if the disease is already present. Compared to men, women have higher levels of psychological risk factors such as early life adversity, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.”
Emotional or mental trauma potentially triggers heart-disease in a number of ways, from aggravating primary risk factors, namely coronary artery disease, to actually causing fatal cardiac events. The new study seems to convincingly corroborate erstwhile research on the subject and demonstrate how isolation and loneliness may be silent, yet potentially deadly, precursors to a much more dangerous underlying medical condition that may trigger life-threatening emergency or even sudden death.
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