New research published in JACC: Heart Failure has shown that heart failure is linked to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
The study included nearly 465,000 participants who were part of the UK Biobank. Participants used a self-reported questionnaire to determine levels of social isolation and loneliness, and heart failure among participants was monitored using hospital and death records. Participants were followed for a median of 12.3 years.
Both social isolation and feelings of loneliness showed significant associations with the development of heart failure, with the risk of hospitalization or death due to heart failure 15–20% higher in those groups. Loneliness increased risk of heart failure even if social isolation was not present, which may be partially explained by people feeling lonely in spite of frequent interactions with friends, colleagues, or romantic partners. Loneliness and social isolation were more frequent in men, and both were associated with less healthy behaviors and conditions such as tobacco use and obesity.
The senior author of the study noted that these results show the importance of feelings of loneliness over objective social isolation; if a person feels lonely, their risk of heart failure is higher whether or not they are socially isolated. This may be because loneliness is a strong stressor, and individuals who experience stressful social interactions or who are hostile in their relationships often experience loneliness.
Given these results, routine screenings for isolation and loneliness may help prevent some instances of heart failure. Routine screenings and interventions for isolation may also be particularly relevant given the recent social upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to cardiovascular disease in previous studies, and this study adds new evidence to their impact on the heart.
Sources: JACC: Heart Failure, Science Daily