July 13, 2024

Loneliness can increase the risk of stroke by as much as 56%, according to research which experts say explains why the problem is a major health threat worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said loneliness is one of the most important global health concerns, affecting every facet of health, well-being and development. The US Surgeon General has warned that its mortality effects are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

While previous research has linked loneliness to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, little has specifically examined the impact on stroke risk. The study, led by Harvard Universityis the first of its kind to examine the relationship between changes in loneliness and stroke risk over time.

Researchers found that adults aged 50 and older who experienced chronic loneliness had a 56% higher risk of stroke than those who consistently reported not being lonely.

Those who experienced situational loneliness but did not suffer long-term did not have a higher risk of stroke, the study found, suggesting that the impact of loneliness on stroke occurs over many years.

The lead author, Dr Yenee Soh, research fellow at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Healthsaid: “Loneliness is increasingly recognized as a major public health issue. Our findings further highlight why this is.

“Especially when experienced chronically, our study suggests that loneliness may play an important role in the incidence of stroke, which is already one of the leading causes of long-term disability and death worldwide.”

The findings were published in eClinicalMedicine.

The study used data from 2006 to 2018 from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study. More than 12,000 people aged 50 and over who had never had a stroke were asked questions about loneliness between 2006 and 2008.

Four years later, about 9,000 people who remained in the study responded to the same questions, and researchers then grouped them based on their answers across the two time points.

The groups were “consistently low” (those who scored low on both points on the loneliness scale); “remitting” (those who scored high initially and low at follow-up); “recent onset” (those who scored low initially and high at follow-up); and “consistently high” (those who scored high at both baseline and follow-up).

After controlling for factors such as social isolation and depressive symptoms, which are closely related to loneliness but clearly so, researchers found that people who were considered lonely at the start of the study had a 25% higher risk of stroke than those who did not. not considered lonely.

But among those who scored “consistently high” for loneliness at both time points, there was a 56% higher risk of stroke than those in the “consistently low” group.

“Repeated assessments of loneliness may help identify those who are chronically lonely and therefore at increased risk for stroke,” said Soh.

People should be offered help based on their loneliness – which relates to how people feel even when surrounded by others – and not social isolation, which is different, Soh added.

“If we fail to address their feelings of loneliness on a micro and macro scale, there can be serious health consequences.”

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