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Strong Evidence Two Life Factors Increase Heart Attack, Stroke Risk By 30% – Even In Healthy People

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Additionally, evidence points to a possible rise of these life factors among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, older persons, women, and people with low incomes.

According to a new scientific statement released today in the journal of the American Heart Association, social isolation and loneliness are related to a 30% greater risk of heart attack or stroke, or death from either.

The statement also notes the dearth of information on therapies that could enhance cardiovascular health in socially or physically isolated adults.

“Over four decades of research,” according to Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené, “has clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes. 

“Given the prevalence of social disconnectedness across the U.S., the public health impact is quite significant.”

Because of life events such as widowhood and retirement, the risk of social isolation grows with age. Nearly a quarter of Americans over the age of 65 are socially isolated, and estimates of the incidence of loneliness range from 22 percent to 47 percent.

But loneliness and social isolation also affect young adults. According to a survey by Harvard University’s Making Caring Common initiative, “Gen Z” (adults currently between the ages of 18 and 22) is the generation that is the most alone. Younger adults may experience increased isolation and loneliness as a result of using social media more frequently and participating in fewer fulfilling in-person activities.

Additionally, evidence points to a possible rise in social isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 outbreak, notably among young adults between the ages of 18 and 25, older persons, women, and people with low incomes.

Having rare face-to-face interactions with others for social ties, such as with family, friends, or members of the same community or religious organization, is referred to as social isolation. Loneliness is the feeling of being alone or having fewer social connections than desired. Although they are related, loneliness and social isolation are two different concepts, according to Cené. Individuals can live in relative isolation and not feel lonely, and vice versa, those who have a large social network may nevertheless feel lonely.

In order to investigate the link between social isolation and cardiovascular and brain health, the writing group evaluated social isolation studies that had been published up until July 2021.

They discovered:

  • Common yet underappreciated predictors of cardiovascular and brain health include social isolation and loneliness.
  • Lack of social interaction is linked to a higher chance of dying young from any cause, especially in men.
  • Higher levels of inflammatory markers are linked to isolation and loneliness, and people who were less socially attached were more likely to exhibit the physical signs of chronic stress.
  • When evaluating risk factors for social isolation, it is important to remember that there is a reciprocal relationship between social isolation and its risk factors: depression may cause social isolation, and social isolation may make depression more likely.
  • Childhood social isolation is linked to an increase in adult cardiovascular risk factors such obesity, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar levels.
  • Transportation, housing, family discontent, the pandemic, and natural catastrophes are only a few socio-environmental elements that have an impact on social interactions.

However, there is limited data on the connection between social isolation and loneliness and specific outcomes including heart failure, dementia, and cognitive impairment, according to Cené.

The evidence showing a relationship between social isolation, loneliness, and mortality from heart disease and stroke is most consistent, with a 29 percent increase in the risk of heart attack and/or heart disease death and a 32 percent increase in the risk of stroke and stroke death.

Cené continued, “Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with worse prognosis in individuals who already have coronary heart disease or stroke.”

During a six-year follow-up study, people with heart disease who were socially isolated had a two- to three-fold higher death rate. Adults who are socially isolated and have three or fewer social interactions each month may have a 40 percent higher chance of having another heart attack or stroke. Additionally, compared to individuals who have more social contacts and are not depressed, 5-year heart failure survival rates were lower (60 percent) for those who were socially isolated and (62 percent) for those who are both socially isolated and clinically depressed (79 percent ).

Along with behaviors that have a detrimental effect on cardiovascular and brain health, social isolation and loneliness are linked to lower levels of self-reported physical activity, a lower consumption of fruits and vegetables, and more sedentary time. Multiple large-scale investigations have identified substantial correlations between loneliness and an increased likelihood of smoking.

In particular for at-risk populations, Cené stated that there is an urgent need to create, implement, and analyze programs and techniques to lessen the detrimental impacts of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular and brain health. 

“Clinicians should ask patients about the frequency of their social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interactions with friends and family.” 

Then, they ought to be ready to suggest local services to persons who are socially isolated or lonely, especially those who have a history of heart disease or stroke, according to the author.

More research is required to understand how social isolation affects cardiovascular and brain health in these populations, which include children and young adults, people from under-represented racial and ethnic groups, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) people, people with physical disabilities, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, people who live in rural areas, and people who are under-resourced.

The review includes studies on senior citizens that attempt to decrease social isolation and loneliness. These research discovered that interventions targeting low self-worth and other negative beliefs, together with fitness programs and recreational activities at senior centers, had showed promise in lowering isolation and loneliness.

The study found no studies that intended to reduce social isolation with the particular goal of enhancing cardiovascular health.

Because just a few studies have looked at both in the same sample, Cené said, “It is unclear whether actually being isolated (social isolation) or feeling isolated (loneliness) matters most for cardiovascular and brain health.” 

In order to better understand the mechanisms through which social isolation and loneliness affect outcomes for cardiovascular and brain health, further study is required to look at the relationships between these conditions, the author concluded.

Image Credit: Getty

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