During the present epidemic, social isolation has been employed to limit the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. New research indicates that postmenopausal women who experience high degrees of social isolation and loneliness are at an increased risk of heart disease by as much as 27 percent.
The results of the prospective study, published in the online edition of JAMA Network Open on February 2, 2022, indicate that social isolation and loneliness independently raised the risk of cardiovascular disease by 8% and 5%, respectively (Golaszewski, LaCroix, et al. 2022). In comparison to women who reported low degrees of social isolation and loneliness, their risk increased by 13 to 27 percent if they reported high levels of both.
Loneliness Is a Feeling We Experience
Since we are social beings, many people, during COVID-19, are experiencing loneliness and social isolation that may also twist into chronic states, noted Natalie Golaszewski, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, also the study’s first author. The acute and long-term effects of these events on cardiovascular health and overall well-being must be better understood.
Significantly, social isolation and loneliness have a weak correlation and can occur simultaneously, but they are not mutually exclusive. A socially isolated individual is not always lonely, and conversely, a lonely one is not always socially isolated.
“Social isolation involves physical separation from individuals, such as not touching, seeing, or conversing with others,” said John Bellettiere, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, remarked, “Loneliness is an emotion that can be experienced even by those who are in constant touch with others.”
As they are connected with health factors that raise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as obesity, poor diet, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, smoking, social isolation, and loneliness are major public health concerns.
When researchers incorporated all of these health behaviors and diseases in their analysis and accounted for diabetes and depression, social isolation and loneliness remained highly associated with an elevated risk for heart disease, highlighting the significance of investigating these social factors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease remains a leading cause of death among American women, responsible for one out of every five deaths.
The scientists concluded that as social networks diminish, the likelihood of social isolation and loneliness among older people increases. One-fourth of persons 65 and older and one-third of adults 45 and older report social isolation and loneliness, respectively.
“We do not yet know if the increased risk of cardiovascular disease is the result of acute exposure to social isolation and loneliness or if it is the result of a lifetime of cumulative exposure.” “Additional research is required to properly comprehend this,” stated Bellettiere.
Prevalence of Loneliness in Women
According to a previous study, women report greater social isolation than men.
During 2011 and 2012, 57,825 postmenopausal women who had previously participated in the Women’s Health Initiative research answered questionnaires assessing social isolation for this study. From 2014 to 2015, they were handed a second questionnaire assessing loneliness and social support.
The participants were tracked from the moment they completed the questionnaire until 2019 or until they were diagnosed with cardiovascular illness. One thousand five hundred ninety-nine females were diagnosed with cardiovascular illness.
“Measures of social isolation and loneliness should be introduced into regular care,” said Golaszewski. “Even with brief questionnaires, as was done in our study,” he said. “We monitor our patients’ blood pressure, weight, and body temperature, but it may be advantageous to additionally record their social requirements in order to better identify cardiovascular risk and provide remedies.”
The National Institute on Aging provides guidance on how to lessen symptoms of loneliness and social isolation for those who experience them.