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Loneliness and social isolation increase mortality risks

A team of researchers led by the University of Limerick in Ireland has recently found that loneliness, social isolation, and living alone can lead to premature death in people diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease – encompassing conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, and other blood vessel disturbances – is currently among the leading causes of death and disability in Ireland. By reviewing 35 studies that followed people with such conditions for decades across multiple regions in Europe, North America, and Asia, the scientists discovered that loneliness, social isolation, and living alone are all strongly predictive of mortality risks in these populations.

“Social health factors such as loneliness and social isolation have gained a significant amount of attention recently and are really important to think of within the context of cardiovascular health,” explained study lead author Róisín Long, a clinical psychologist at the University of Limerick.

“What was unclear is to what degree they impact how long people live when they have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Our review found that each of these factors are critically important to consider in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, as increased levels of loneliness, social isolation, and living alone appears to lead to premature death. There are likely several reasons for this, ranging from support from another individual to how an individual biologically responds to stress.”

Quite interestingly, the negative effects of living alone on cardiovascular health appeared to be stronger in European countries, most likely reflecting the large number of people living on their own in many parts of this continent.

“While supporting public health concerns surrounding loneliness and social isolation, the study points to the need for rigorous research in this area across a greater range of geographical regions,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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