Being lonely raises blood pressure? (UPDATED 5/2013)

Julie Silver, a doctor at Harvard Medical School, discussed a study in the current issue of Psychology and Aging, that suggests loneliness might be a strong risk factor for blood hypertension.

 The study conducted by Chicago-based researchers surveyed 229 men and women ages 50 to 68 about standard risk factors for hypertension and about their degree of social isolation. “Blood pressure was measured and correlated with the subjects’ answers about social interactions. The results were remarkable: the highest blood pressures were measured in the people who were most lonely. And loneliness was common: just over half were considered at least moderately lonely and 15% were ‘highly lonely.’ The link between social isolation and high blood pressure remained strong even when standard risk factors for hypertension were taken into account. “

As Silver admits, strong correlation cannot show that loneliness causes high blood pressure.  It could be some third factor related to loneliness and blood pressure that is the critical link.  For example, “lonely people might exercise less and eat a higher salt diet and that’s what raises blood pressure, not the social isolation.”

 Nevertheless, Silver points out the growing list of negative health outcomes associated with loneliness: oneliness abnormal blood vessel response to stress; higher risk of cardiovascular disease; and an increased risk of death.

For the full article by Silver, and ideas of hers about how to become less lonely read here.

See article “The Science of Loneliness” (New Republic, Judith Shulevitz, May 2013)

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3 responses to “Being lonely raises blood pressure? (UPDATED 5/2013)

  1. I have taken a renewed interest in blood-pressure. Since my wife died in April, my bp has averaged just about 142/91. My UK doc is not worried because I’m in my early sixties, but I am. I am overweight and I don’t get enough exercise because of hip problems. I’m working on the weight.

    I used to run boriningly normal 128/30, even when I was overweight, so I am really worried.

    I find the difference in UK and US treatment alarm points disturbing. I also find it difficult to get a clear anwere on which medications should be used in which circumstances.

  2. Just a quick comment here to say that i love that loneliness would be talked about forthrightly, as so many inward issues are overlooked too easily i think. I also appreciate the tie between that inner realm and the physical (whether it be right to the blood pressure, or via one’s choices of food, exercise etc.,as you mention).

    I also just wanted to note a rather unfortunate side of things, that i think that so many equate loneliness with a need for romantic companionship–a presumption that i fear is one of the factors in the divorce rate, and myriad, surfacey romantic relationships. The alternative that has been personally surprising is to realize how much community in the way of multiple people and developed friendships and family relationships can enrich one’s life–and factor into a real decrease in loneliness, along with a related broadening of oneself. It’s heartening that these seem to be some of the main things that your Saguaro Seminar and Better Together focus on. Societally on the other hand, is where i think the skewed view of loneliness is prevalent.

  3. This is a topic I hadn’t heard before…thanks for sharing. I believe that there are many causes for this including malnourishment and lack of exercise…

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