A new study shows a direct relation between loneliness and larger increases in blood pressure four years later—a link that is independent of age and other factors that could cause blood pressure to rise, including body-mass index, smoking, alcohol use, stress and depression as well as demographic differences such as race and income. “Loneliness behaved as though it is a unique health-risk factor in its own right,” wrote researcher Louise Hawkley.
Loneliness is sometimes not easy to detect. People who have many friends and a social network can feel lonely if they find their relationships unsatisfying, Hawkley said. Conversely, people who live rather solitary lives may not be lonely if their few relationships are meaningful and rewarding.
The team based its research on a study of 229 people aged 50 to 68. The randomly chosen group included whites, African Americans and Latinos. Members of the group were asked questions to determine if they perceived themselves as lonely. They were asked to rate connections with others through a series of topics, such as “I have a lot in common with the people around me,” “My social relationships are superficial” and “I can find companionship when I want it.”
During the five-year study, Hawkley found a clear connection between feelings of loneliness reported at the beginning of the study and rising blood pressure. “The increase associated with loneliness wasn’t observable until two years into the study, but then continued to increase until four years later,” she said. Among all the people in the sample, the loneliest people saw their blood pressure go up by 14.4 mm more than the blood pressure of their most socially contented counterparts over the four-year study period.
Lonely people’s apprehension about social connections may underlie the blood pressure increase. “Loneliness is characterized by a motivational impulse to connect with others but also a fear of negative evaluation, rejection and disappointment,” Hawkley said. “We hypothesize that threats to one’s sense of safety and security with others are toxic components of loneliness, and that hypervigilance for social threat may contribute to alterations in physiological functioning, including elevated blood pressure.”
MEDICA.de; Source: University of Chicago