Posted on 20 April 2016
The review found that loneliness and poor social relationships were associated with a 29 per cent increase in risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and a 32 per cent increase in risk of stroke.
The report’s authors say efforts to prevent CHD and stroke would benefit from taking social isolation and loneliness into account.
The researchers undertook a systematic review using data from previously published studies to investigate the association between loneliness or social isolation and incidents of CHD and stroke.
They searched 16 electronic databases for long-term studies set in high-income countries and published up until May 2015.
Researchers identified 23 studies suitable for analysis: three papers measured loneliness, 18 measured social isolation and two papers used a measure combining both dimensions.
A total of 4,628 incidents of CHD and more than 3,000 stroke events were recorded across the studies, which involved more than 180,000 people aged 18 or above.
The findings, which also involved researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Liverpool, are published in the BMJ’s Heart journal and funded through The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow, Nicole Valtorta, from the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “When we aggregated the effect estimates across the studies we found that people with weaker social relationships had a 29 per cent greater risk of developing CHD than the people with stronger social relationships.
“And similarly when we looked at stroke the effect estimates taken across the evidence suggested that people who are socially isolated had a 32 per cent greater risk of developing a stroke.
“We take risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity for granted whereas we don’t yet with social isolation and loneliness. The data supports us taking it seriously.
“If we put these findings into context what we found is comparable in size to the effect of other psychosocial risk factors such as anxiety and job strain.
“From the perspective of public health what our findings suggest is that efforts to prevent CHD and stroke would benefit from talking social isolation and loneliness into account.”
The paper: Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies can be found here: http://heart.bmj.com/lookup/doi/10.1136/heartjnl-2015-308790