Loneliness, cardiovascular health: Social isolation leads to deadly heart issues | Health - Hindustan Times

Loneliness and cardiovascular health: Here's how social isolation leads to deadly heart issues

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Feb 18, 2024 05:50 PM IST

Last year, WHO declared loneliness as a ‘pressing’ heart issue. Expert reveals the hidden toll of loneliness, how social isolation affects health and wellbeing

The subjective experience of a mismatch between one's desired and actual levels of social connectedness is known as loneliness, or “perceived social isolation”. In contrast to social separation, which is a subjective feeling, loneliness is an objective measure of connectivity.

Loneliness and cardiovascular health: Here's how social isolation leads to deadly heart issues (Photo by Pixabay)
Loneliness and cardiovascular health: Here's how social isolation leads to deadly heart issues (Photo by Pixabay)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Prashant Pawar, Consultant-Interventional Cardiology at Fortis Hiranandani Hospital in Vashi, shared, “It is commonly acknowledged that loneliness is a significant risk factor for sickness and early death; according to some estimations, having no social connections might increase one's chances of dying by up to 50%. The incidence of loneliness is concerning, in 2021, almost one-third of older persons in the United States reported experiencing loneliness regularly, according to World Health Organization (WHO) research.”

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He explained, “Loneliness is an emotional reaction to social isolation; it is defined as the difference between an individual's intended and actual social relationships. Accordingly, it is believed that connection quality, rather than quantity, has a greater bearing on loneliness. Research of the European Society of Cardiology (EuroHeartCare 2018) shows that loneliness is detrimental to the heart and a powerful predictor of early death. The study discovered that, for both men and women, living alone was not as strong a predictor of negative outcomes as feeling lonely!”

Highlighting that adults who are socially isolated or lonely, frequently experience chronic stress, Dr Prashant Pawar revealed, “Due to socioeconomic and demographic shifts, an increasing number of people in contemporary society are vulnerable to loneliness. Due to increased longevity, the population of those 60yrs of age and beyond has tripled since 1950. Reduced social interactions, living alone for extended periods of time and a higher frequency of loneliness are all related with getting older. However, loneliness can occur at any stage of life and is not just a consequence of losses associated with ageing.”

According to him, the number of single-family houses, delayed marriages, and two-income households has all contributed to a rise in the prevalence of loneliness. Dr Prashant Pawar pointed out, “The Internet has fundamentally altered how people communicate and live. More people are feeling socially isolated despite more access to digital media. Recent research indicates that social media use may actually be detrimental to one’s wellbeing rather than improving it.”

He revealed, “Regardless of the type of cardiac disease, feeling alone was linked to worse outcomes in all patients, even after controlling for Body Mass Index (BMI), age, education level, smoking, alcohol consumption, other conditions as per DenHeart survey. For both men and women, loneliness was linked to an almost doubled risk of mortality. Individuals who experienced loneliness, regardless of gender, were shown to have a much worse quality of life and were three times more likely to express feelings of anxiety and despair.”

Dr Prashant Pawar elaborated, “Health risk behaviours like smoking, insufficient sleep, and physical inactivity are linked to social isolation & loneliness. Additionally, despair, Anxiety, Sysphoria, and social disengagement have all been linked to loneliness. For both men and women, loneliness is a far higher predictor of early death, poorer mental health, and a lower quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease, than living alone.”

He concluded, “According to European guidelines on cardiovascular prevention, those who experience social isolation or disconnection are more likely to acquire coronary artery disease and die from it before their time. According to the guidelines, people who already have cardiovascular disease or who are at high risk of getting it should have their psychological risk factors assessed.”

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