Loneliness and social isolation might do some serious damage to the heart, according to a new study.
Is it any surprise that loneliness has a certain impact on the heart? Previous studies have not, however, clarified the link between loneliness and cardiovascular diseases — a mystery partly unveiled by the new research.
The researchers of the new paper pooled data from 16 databases and chose 23 studies to be analysed. The information they gleaned involved patients of heart diseases like heart and angina attacks, and stroke as well as other similar ailments.
Putting this data under the microscope led the scientists to conclude that decreased social interactions were linked with a greater risk of heart problems: those adults with few social contacts or who expressed unhappiness in terms of their relationships with others had a 29 % higher risk of having a heart attack or angina and a 32% greater chance of having a stroke.
The effect of loneliness was comparable to known risk factors like anxiety and job stress that have been shown to be correlated with heart problems.
The researchers point out that their findings indicate the importance of connecting with other people socially in protecting the health. After all, humans are innately gregarious; it is in our nature to have to interact with other humans. The authors write that loneliness and social isolation might need to be addressed as issues to curb morbidity associated with heart problems. However, it is to be noted that the study only demonstrates a link between the said variables, and that no cause-and-effect correlation has been established. The authors maintain, though, that social connections should be taken into account as a risk factor just like smoking and diet are considered in matters pertaining to the heart.
Researchers also argue that social connectedness should be incorporated in medical education.
This might be more complicated than thought though, since the way we connect with others has drastically changed over the years as societies have taken to technological means more and more; one of the questions to be answered before tackling the issue would be whether interacting online is the same as face-to-face social interaction or not.